Battle Joined

When I first saw the news of Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project and its effort to smack down the 2014 crop of Senate Tea Party candidates I thought it was a fun but not terribly consequential story — or rather a knock off version of a fight we’d see for real months or maybe even years in the future. But now I think this is for real, like this is the battle actually being joined.If you haven’t already, read this piece by Howard Fineman at Huffpo. He thinks this is the real thing and that Rove is going to lose. But where it really gets interesting is his dissection of Rove’s history in the GOP which now goes back more than 40 years.

For Democrats who were politically aware in the Bush years it sounds comical to question whether Karl Rove is really conservative. Yesterday we were assembling a list of conservatives like Terence Jeffrey who are now saying he’s not. But as Fineman notes, in a specific and significant sense Rove is not an ideologue, not a Movement guy and so by by Movement standards not really a conservative at all. Really he’s a guy who’s about power and he’s spent a decent amount of his career clipping the wings of kinds of far right wingers who make it hard for the more mainstream money Republican types to get elected. In other words, he’s spent a lot of his career trying to do on smaller stages in the South what he’s now nominated himself to do nationwide.

A lot of this gets obscured because Rove better than anyone else played the gay-bashing and liberals-hating-America card with gusto in the Bush years. But being ruthless and willing to peddle the ugliest kind of politics doesn’t make you conservative, though the two things are certainly not exclusive of each other. Remember, Lee Atwater, who came up with Rove in GOP politics, practiced his dark arts (remember Willie Horton) on behalf of George H.W. Bush who conservatives, rightly, never accepted as their own.

A lot of this story is getting played as conservatives versus moderates. But that’s not quite how I see it. There’s a big part of this which is the ideologues against the money Republican party. The Chamber of Commerce and similar outfits want low taxes, a low regulatory regime in Washington and anything that gets in the way of that is a problem. They definitely don’t want endless wars in the Middle East and gays and guns and contraception are problems to whatever extent they get in the way of the low taxes and light regulation. Mainly they want a party that can win and keep the taxes and regs low.

Allied with them are the Rove types who mainly want to win elections. The fact that the consultants make massive personal incomes through running outfits like Crossroads is an additional incentive.

But here’s the thought I’d end on. Are there really moderates in this fight? Marco Rubio because he’s the Hispanic point man on immigration? But wait, he was a Tea Partier last year? What happened? Karl Rove? He’s on TV today pledging his loyalty to the Tea Party in the midst of his efforts to bring it to heel. The layer of the party behind Rove seems very thin and brittle. They have lots of money. So that makes them consequential. But the Tea Party isn’t the fringe of the GOP. It’s actually most of the party. And a little discussed aspect of the post-2008 crash period (combined with the rise of Obama but distinct from it) is the rise of hard right ideology within significant sectors of the business community — especially Wall Street which used to lean relatively Democratic.

This all makes what Rove’s trying to do very difficult.