Conservatives wary of Rove super-PAC

Tea Party leaders are balking at the creation of a Karl Rove-backed group they consider to be a GOP establishment effort to protect incumbent Republicans against the will of the party’s grassroots — and warn they could back “alternative” candidates in response.

The new Conservative Victory Project was created specifically to engage in primary races going into 2014. 

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Its founders say the super-PAC is a reflection of concern among Republicans that untested conservative candidates made it through primaries in 2012 — only to lose what should have otherwise been easy pickup opportunities for the GOP.

And while it is being launched by Rove, former President George W. Bush’s senior policy adviser, it is being operated independent of his most prominent super-PAC, American Crossroads. 

The group insists it will back the most electable candidates — whether they are Republican incumbents or challengers. 

But within just a few days of its creation, the group has already sparked the same sort of outspoken backlash among Republican grassroots and Tea Party groups that led a number of those groups to engage heavily in primary races in 2010 and 2012.

Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative site RedState.com and a leader in the Tea Party movement, warned that the Conservative Victory Project is “painting targets on the backs of a lot of candidates, making anyone they support suspect and ripe for defeat.”

Erickson notes that in a number of 2012 races in which the primary winner wasn’t considered the most electable — Todd Akin in Missouri in 2012, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, among others — the weak Republican contender arose because of backlash to Republican establishment involvement in these races.

“The arrogance in the Conservative Victory Project is in presuming that they are somehow best qualified to pick the nominees,” Erickson wrote in a blog post. 

“What they ignore is that each of the conservatives and races I’ve mentioned came about because of that presumption — in reaction to it. By doing more of it, the Conservative Victory Project, American Crossroads, and the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] itself risk more of it happening.”

The Republican establishment is aware of this, and has taken steps — most notably placing Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas) in a recruiting role at the National Republican Senatorial Committee — to prevent the backlash going into 2014. 

Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for American Crossroads, said the motivation behind the Conservative Victory Project is a wariness in GOP circles about getting involved in primaries. 

Not all Crossroads donors were comfortable putting money into primary races, and so those who felt a need to do so will help fund this new group, he said. 

However, Collegio insisted that the new group is “not an incumbent protection operation.” 

He said challenging incumbents in primaries is “not off the table” for the group going into 2014, and emphasized that the group has no ideological motivations.

“Contrary to some of the commenting that’s going on in the Twitterverse, this is not some insidious plot to elect moderates in Republican primaries. We want to elect conservatives,” Collegio said. But they should be conservatives who can win in general elections, he added. 

A number of prominent Tea Party and grassroots leaders see the creation of this new group as simply an offshoot of the Republican establishment, and warned that backlash was imminent.

“They want power, and they will sacrifice principle for power. We will not sacrifice principle,” said Amy Kremer, head of the Tea Party Express, a prominent grassroots organizing group.

Kremer expressed the belief shared among many in the Republican grassroots movement that the emphasis on “electability” often results in the GOP establishment backing candidates who are merely centrist. To be truly electable, a candidate must stand on conservative principles, they contend. 

“If the establishment’s large donors want to see a complete electoral catastrophe, then all they need to do is push Tea Party conservatives into supporting alternative third candidates,” Kremer said in a separate statement.

Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, told The Hill he expects the Conservative Victory Project to have the same poor success rate as other establishment groups that look at electability as the highest standard.

“They almost never get it right when they focus strictly on this electability standard in a vacuum,” he said.

According to Collegio, electability includes some grassroots flavor. He noted that an “electable” candidate, in the CVP’s view, is one that is getting “large checks from local donors, a very good indication that a candidate is being taken seriously locally.”

But Kremer and Chocola both expressed skepticism that the group would be anything more than a support system for candidates who are willing to compromise on principle, which they see as a recipe for failure.

“Their focus will be, in my view — regardless of what they say — will be on electability and the Republican label,” Chocola said.

“I think that they’re identifying the wrong problem.”

Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, a conservative grassroots group, said in a statement on the group that “these moderates should stand aside and let the conservative movement lead.”

“These fake conservatives need to go away before they do more damage,” he said.

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a prominent Tea Party group, said he was withholding judgment of the group until it engages in races. But Kibbe said he wasn’t convinced the Conservative Victory Project would be any different from establishment groups that have come before it.

“If you sort of pull the curtain back, I think this is really about protecting incumbents from competition. But we’ll have to see where they play,” Kibbe said.

He warned, however, that if this group is perceived as minting a candidate against the will of activists and average voters, it could have dire consequences for the party as a whole.

“The GOP is dead if they declare civil war on the grassroots constituencies which elect their candidates,” he said.