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Rothenberg: In GOP Civil War, No Easy Answers

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call File Photo
The new group is aiming to defeat candidates who are viewed as less-electable, such as King, above.

But if American Crossroads shouldn’t be announcing its plans in The New York Times, what should it be doing? For many Republican strategists the answer is clear: recruiting better candidates, getting conservatives with broad appeal to run better campaigns, and making sure that multiple candidates don’t divide the mainstream conservative vote and allow a much weaker “anti-establishment” candidate to win the nomination.

American Crossroads also should have worked with others to set up a new, independent group to support and give cover to pragmatic conservative candidates. Led by a couple of well-credentialed conservatives who understand the party’s problem, the group could prevent the Club for Growth, Rush Limbaugh or The Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint from deciding who is a conservative and who isn’t.

Doing all of this, of course, would not have guaranteed that Jane Norton would have defeated Buck for the Republican Senate nomination in Colorado in 2010, or that businessman John Brunner would have defeated Akin in Missouri’s GOP Senate primary last cycle.

There are no guarantees in politics.

But while creating a high-profile fight with “anti-establishment” groups, as American Crossroads has done, may help with fundraising and mollify supporters, it will turn out to be counterproductive because it will only enrage and empower the very people that American Crossroads is trying to marginalize.

That is exactly what has happened in Iowa, where GOP Rep. Steve King, a conservative whose record and tone make it more difficult to win a statewide race, has already attacked Rove so as to mobilize state conservatives behind the congressman’s potential Senate bid.

Winning a primary or two or seeing an anti-establishment conservative lose another winnable race isn’t likely to end the Republican fratricide. The Club for Growth’s funders aren’t easily convinced that they are misguided, and DeMint won’t change his mind about politics anytime soon.

Pragmatic conservatives in the GOP might actually be better off trying to kill the conservative troublemakers with kindness and to woo potential critics through inclusion, as many incumbent members of Congress have done quite successfully.

Ultimately, the Republican Party’s problems go back to its base voters, who participate in primaries and nominating conventions. Many of them are so blinded by their anger toward President Barack Obama, the national news media and their own party leaders that they are willing to nominate the most conservative candidate in a primary, no matter how limited his or her appeal in a general election.

And for party strategists, there is no easy solution to that problem.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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