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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.

Republicans continue to argue about whether the party needs to take steps to prevent the next Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin and Ken Buck, as well as how it might do so.

Those inept and seriously flawed candidates lost races that other Republicans would have won easily.

Now, American Crossroads, the brainchild of Karl Rove and former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, has created a new organization, the Conservative Victory Project, to focus on getting more electable candidates through primaries against uncompromising, tea-party-type conservatives who successfully tap anti-establishment feelings in the GOP grass roots.

The new group is suppose to be a counter-weight to the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund, both of which helped fund some of the problematic candidates

But announcing the formation of the Conservative Victory Project in The New York Times, a symbol of the elite, northeastern establishment, only gives ammunition to the groups it is seeking to combat since part of its appeal with supporters relies on something close to paranoia about the power and goal of the “establishment.”

The truth is that while most insiders agree about the problem, nobody has come up with an easy solution. And that’s because there isn’t a quick fix.

It is both true and obvious that not all uncompromising conservatives lose general elections and not all pragmatic conservatives win them. But in competitive contests and during years without a huge pro-Republican wave, the quality of candidates definitely matters. And ideological positioning is only one part of what makes a “quality” nominee.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a Club for Growth and tea party favorite who demonized conservative Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as a moderate in a 2012 GOP primary, happens to be smart and politically savvy. The same goes for Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., a former president of the Club for Growth who once supported moderate Sen. Arlen Specter’s bid for re-election. Toomey also was helped in his Senate bid by the GOP wave of 2010.

But some “anti-establishment conservatives” obviously lacked the agility to be strong nominees, while others had such out-of-the-mainstream values or such a misunderstanding about how a candidate should act — or what qualities voters value — that they kicked away almost certain victories.

Again, plenty of “establishment conservative” candidates have run mediocre campaigns (Montana’s Denny Rehberg and North Dakota’s Rick Berg are often mentioned) and lost. But they certainly had a better chance of victory and were less likely to make silly mistakes during their campaigns than were the O’Donnells, Akins and Bucks of the world.

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