The Empire Strikes Back!

By rights Republicans should have won the Senate in 2010 but didn’t. They probably should have again in 2012 but lost seats. Some degree of the 2012 success was due to the fact that President Obama’s coalition and campaign were more potent and better organized than expected. But the overriding reason was that Republican primary electorates kept nominating candidates who ripped it in the conservative rage bubble but barely survived first contact that with a bipartisan, non-gerrymandered electorate, even in relative conservative states like Missouri and Indiana.And now with another really good shot at taking the Senate in 2014 (when the banner 2008 class of Dems comes up for reelection), the Republican establishment has decided to step in and take an active role in knee-capping far right and/or wildly indisciplined candidates who they think can’t win or have too big a risk of imploding. In case you missed it there was this New York Times piece over the weekend about something called the Conservative Victory Project, an offshoot of American Crossroads, the Rove affiliated group that was such a big spender last year. The head guy is Steven J. Law, president of AC.

The focus of the story is the possibility that Representative Steve King might run for the seat being vacated by Tom Harkin. And as someone who’s been covering King for years, he really is the perfect example of the sort of thing that does and should scare GOP operatives.

First, in political terms, he’s nuts.

If there’s something ridiculous to say about rape, Muslims, Obamacare, slavery reparations, Obama’s black relatives or many other edifying topics, he’s said it. Probably ten times. (He’s probably about 1/10 of the TPM publishing model.) Meanwhile, Iowa’s a state that has really conservative conservatives and really liberal liberals. So it’s the kind of state where Republicans run a particularly big risk of sending a real wingnut into the buzzsaw of a general election.

What’s interesting about this development to me is that the establishment counter-attack is so unabashedly establishment in nature. Before American Crossroads, Law was the Chief Counsel for the US Chamber of Commerce. So extremely establishment money Republicans, the folks who are animated by low upper income taxes and minimal regulation of the private economy don’t really care or generally want to talk about birth control or rape or Muslims or a lot of the other things that really animate the base of the Republican party. And the message is open and direct: we’re going to stop you from nominating these crazy people.

Two of the main outfits on the other side, Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund (Jim DeMint’ group) have both reacted to the Law piece with contempt and mockery. So they’re clearly not going anywhere. And remember, DeMint left the Senate to run the increasingly hard right and campaign-oriented Heritage Foundation.

Nothing gins up the Republican base like the perception that they’re being shut down or pinned down or smacked down by the elites whether it’s the supposed Democratic variety or the money establishment within the GOP. And so the very effort seems designed to inflame core Republicans and rile them up even more.

To me the question is this: is the issue simply poor candidate choice or whether it’s built into the current structure of the party — specifically, one that appears to be shrinking in overall terms but seeing a bigger and bigger majority of its voters fall into the far-right, ‘base’ category. And remember, the current GOP is being defined by a House Majority that seems relatively immune from the majority of the national electorate. If that’s the case, it’s not as easy as getting a bunch of the big money guys to come in the shut down the candidate of a Rep. like Steven King. If that’s where the energy of the current GOP is — and I think that’s the case — how do you remobilize that energy for the softsoap money Republicanism guy?

I can’t say that I have a perfect read at the moment for how this goes down. But I do think it’s going to be the defining story in the GOP for the next two and perhaps four years.