In Defense of Rove

Arnold Ahlert is a former NY Post op-ed columnist currently contributing to JewishWorldReview.com, HumanEvents.com and CanadaFreePress.com. He may be reached at atahlert@comcast.net.


Intense criticism is mounting against Karl Rove over his launch of the “Conservative Victory Project,” a new American Crossroads initiative that seeks to vet GOP Senate candidates while squeezing out unelectable political prospects. Conservative critics of Rove see his new venture as an “incumbent protection program” and an assault on the Tea Party. But the accusations miss their mark. It is difficult to deny the disasters that cost conservatives precious political power in the last two elections – disasters that could have been easily prevented if there had been a system set up for the careful scrutiny of candidates. Surely, the conservative movement would better be served by a more effective filtering out of unelectable candidates through a project like Rove has designed.

“There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected,” says Steven J. Law, the president of American Crossroads, the conservative organization responsible for the creation of the Project. “We don’t view ourselves as being in the incumbent protection business, but we want to pick the most conservative candidate who can win.”

Jonathan Collegio, communications director of American Crossroads, further illuminates the rationale behind the project:

“Somewhere between four to seven U.S. Senate seats were lost over the last two election cycles, not because of the messages that the Republican party had, but because of the messengers, the lack of candidate discipline, as well as a lack of ability to raise sufficient money to compete.”

Some of those messengers were indeed very much off the charts politically. Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s ludicrous comment about “legitimate rape” more than likely cost Republicans a Senate seat retained by the extremely vulnerable incumbent Claire McCaskill. McCaskill was widely predicted to lose before Akin’s blunder. Richard E. Mourdock, who ousted Indiana Republican incumbent Richard E. Lugar in the primary, was defeated by Rep. Joe Donnelly for a seat long-held by the GOP. His widely publicized statement that “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen” was a decisive factor.

The 2010 election saw similar defeats of other dubious candidates, such as the highly grating loss by Sharron Angle to a very vulnerable Harry Reid in Nevada, and Ken Buck, who lost a close race to Michael Bennet in Colorado, very likely due to his position that abortion should be prohibited even in cases of rape or incest. In the cases of Bennet, Akin and Mourdock, these candidates do not even represent the popular Republican Party view of allowing abortion exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. All it takes is one question from one reporter on their extreme position, and the race is as good as lost. How many more times will conservatives permit this scene to play itself out?

Perhaps the most glaring example of the type of election forfeiture Rove and Crossroads seek to avoid with their new project comes to us from Christine O’Donnell, who ousted Rep. Michael Castle in the primary, only to be defeated by Christopher Coons in the 2010 election in Delaware. O’Donnell represented the epitome of an undesirable candidate. She had held no elective office or had any experience in government prior to running for the Senate, and a veritable collection of off-the-wall comments, as well as a series of business problems, ranging from unpaid debts and taxes, to IRS liens and misused campaign funds, made her an easily beatable candidate. Coons trounced O’Donnell in the election, winning by a margin of 17 points. By contrast, an exit poll taken following the vote showed Coons would have beaten Castle by a single point. Considering that poll was taken after Coons’ victory, it is quite possible Castle could have overcome such a slender margin during a sustained campaign. Instead, a man with a serious prior flirtation with Marxism was sent to the Senate.

In an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Rove attempted to defuse criticism coming from conservative circles. The foremost accusation is that Rove is attempting to form an incumbent protection movement aimed at protecting establishment GOP candidates from “upstart” Tea Party candidates and their “over-the-top” conservatism. “This is not to protect incumbent Republicans,” explained Rove. He continued:

“It is to get in races where it is important to have a winning candidate. It is to try and find the most conservative candidate who can win the so-called Buckley rule. Our job is not to protect incumbents, it is to win races by stopping the practice of giving away some of the seats like we did in Missouri and Indiana this past year, and that may mean telling the incumbent Republican that if he is going be in the race, he shouldn’t expect any funds from Crossroads in the general election.”

The claim that Rove is “at war” with conservative grassroots is similarly hyperbolic and is disproved by the tens of millions of dollars that Crossroads has given to Tea Party candidates, even against the organization’s better judgment. “Crossroads is second to none in our support of Tea Party candidates,” Rove affirmed:

“In 2010 and ’12, we spent over $30 million for Senate candidates who were Tea Party candidates. We spent almost $20 million for House candidates who were Tea Party candidates … We spent $2.9 million for Marco Rubio, more than any other group. We spent $2.7 million for Ron Paul. We spent $5.1 million for Sharron Angle in Nevada. We spent $8 million in Colorado for Ken Buck. We spent $1.4 million in Pennsylvania for Pat Toomey, the former president of Club for Growth. We spent more money on his behalf than the group that he used to head. And then in 2012 we spent $5.9 million in Indiana for Murdock and $3.3 million in Missouri. We ran ads up until the point where Akin made his stupid comment.”

As Rove notes, the Tea Party has certainly brought the GOP some good candidates, such as Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, which Crossroads has supported. But it has also supported terrible candidates, which the entire conservative movement, including the so-called “establishment,” has no choice but to waste millions of dollars on in vain. Like the Republican Party itself, the Tea Party movement is not immune to attracting unseemly characters and supporting those who do damage to the conservative cause. The influential Tea Party-aligned group FreedomWorks, for instance, suffered an embarrassing leadership fallout over a book royalty dispute. Veteran Republican politico and former chairman Dick Armey resigned from the organization after he and other staffers alleged group president Matt Kibbe was exploiting FreedomWorks to enrich himself through a book produced with organizational resources. As one internal source told the Daily Caller, “There is a feeling by a lot of folks that FreedomWorks is shifting over to become a promotion vehicle for Matt Kibbe more than an organization that focuses on public policy and elections and being a service center to the grassroots.”

The Conservative Victory Project will maintain its own identity, operating as a super-PAC, independent of both American Crossroads and the National Republican Senatorial Committee. This autonomy, along with the intention of disclosing the names of donors, is considered critical. The inevitable showdowns between competing Republicans is likely to make some donors squeamish about supporting intra-party battles that could eventually benefit Democrats, much like the Republican presidential primaries gave the Obama campaign plenty of ammunition to use against eventual nominee Mitt Romney.

One candidate for the 2014 races reportedly being targeted by Rove’s group is Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who is considering a run for the Senate seat in Iowa currently held by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin. Efforts will be made to see that he doesn’t get the nomination, due to his outspoken and incendiary comments that would likely alienate a majority of the electorate: King contended that terrorists would be “dancing in the streets” if President Obama won the 2008 election, unnecessarily denigrated illegal immigrants as “dogs,” and called former Senator Joseph McCarthy (R-WI) “a great American hero.” Other Senate races where provocative would-be candidates are seen as potential general election liabilities include Louisiana, Alaska and Georgia.

A more rigorous vetting process for such loose-cannon candidates will likely improve electoral outcomes for the conservative movement. In 2010, for example, prompted by nationwide dissatisfaction with two years of complete Democratic control, the Senate, just like the House, was ripe for the taking by Republicans. In the end, Democrats maintained a 51-47 margin (with 2 independents). Thus, the three very winnable Senate seats lost by Angle, Buck and O’Donnell cost the GOP control of that chamber. After that, the Democratically-controlled Senate, led by Harry Reid, enabled Barack Obama to keep his profligate and irresponsible spending under wraps by refusing to pass a budget for more than three years. Had Republicans controlled both houses of Congress, they would have very likely forced the president to veto responsible budgets which, in turn, might have led to a different result in the 2012 presidential election. Moreover, as mad as conservative groups may be, Jonathan Collegio reminds them that losing control of the Senate “made it impossible to stop Obama’s fiscal cliff tax hikes last month.”

In 2014, Senate races will see Democrats defending 21 seats, compared to only 14 for Republicans, giving them a similar advantage to the 23-10 one they held in the 2012 election. Democrats gained two seats, courtesy of Mourdock and Aken, but 2014 is fraught with far more peril for their party. Barack Obama isn’t on the ballot, meaning voters can only express dissatisfaction with his policies by taking it out on other Democrats. Off-year elections also tend to attract voters who are paying closer attention than the so-called “low information voters.” Thus, the excesses of dubious candidates with hard-line positions that thrill primary voters, while they alienate the general electorate, are likely to be magnified.

Conservatives of all strips were burned by the outcome of the 2012 election and are understandably searching for the cause of their electoral misfortune. But they must look honestly at the factors that produced crucial losses for the cause and ultimately allowed the radical agenda of the Obama administration to continue damaging the country. The Conservative Victory Project is a legitimate attempt to prevent unforced errors in the candidate vetting process and needlessly giving up political power to the opposition. The conservative movement is not advanced by fomenting its own division and fighting with each other instead of fighting the enemy.

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  • Kenneth Olsen

    It's clear that Karl Rove is all about Karl Rove and not much else. What does his lame joke about killing Akin say about Rove himself? He fashions himself the arbiter of who will get to participate in the political process. He is effective: his malicious public abandonment of Akin, a guy who spoke carelessly but with an excellent conservative voting record, helped seal his defeat. With "conservative" colleagues like Rove, who needs enemies?

  • hyedenny

    "…$30 million dollars spent on tea party candidates…"

    Ya, out of more than $300 million. Big deal!

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLNn2YflwNs Roger

    Rove, the advisor to the white house that endorses and defended Arlen Spector.

    Need we know anything more? This is not an accurate article. It's a smear piece without any connection to reality.

  • Horace

    I'd rather see a third party come as a result of a crippling split in the Democrat party than one in the Republican party. How about you? Politics is the art of the possible.

  • Craig S. Maxwell

    Should be titled: In Defense of the Indefensible.

  • slhancock

    I saw no mention of the complete failure Rove was this time around. The tea party at least got 6-7 candidates elected. Rove missed all the way around, and then to put out there that the tea party is ruining things? I have been angry for many years at Rove for his pushing moderate candidates with so much money that we cannot get a decent conservative, but are stuck with voting for the better of two evils. I've blogged that he should stand down and let conservatives have a run at it for a change. I'm sick of Rove, et al.

  • Grace

    The criticism or call for civil war in the Republican Party has finally come after Rowe attacked conservatives using the NYT'. His lack of support for Republican candidates against Democrats is well documented. He would let West, Bachman fail. Even if he thinks that Atkins or other candidates are not the best, when they win the nomination we should give them support. I believe that Rove has given Bush , McCain and Romney
    advice against standing on principles and fighting. He has a non confident spineless approach. When Bush didn't support himself, Libby or fight for us, it was the end.

  • bubbland

    Karl Rove is a disaster! He should be dumped with the rest of the Republican establishment. Karl Rove stands for the status quo, period.

  • Alakhta Thowdup

    Third rate Architecht Rove is full of energy to suppress the grass roots and divide the republican party. Just look at his GW Bush creation. GW was successful in his cowboy way by having nothing to say. He railroaded Scooter Libby, refused to pardon border agents Ramos & Compean for shooting a caugh in the act dope dealer in the tail. He loaded us up with muslim immigrants. He got us into the counterproductive Iraq war,killed the secular dictator Saddam Hussein in favor of the Iranian stooge Malaki and got Karzai the corrupt Islamist and Taliban appeaser put in charge of Afghanistan to the point where it is a dead loss, Bush smooched Saudi Arabia's money root while they led him down the garden path by the hand. He stands aside in silence while the oil rich Saudis and their unprincipled sharia salesmen destroy what's left of America, Religion of peace my keister. So far no democrat has come up with a better plan to destroy America. Rove's Bush set the tone for what we have now and was do-nothing to the point of giving us Barack Hussein Obama the great destroyer. What to expect from geldings. Bush Rove Obama Soros Biden Reid, Pelosi and co. Put Rove out to pasture already. All he can eat.

  • Spiritof1776

    Rove is a Democra,t everything he does, every Rino he supports pushes the Dem/Marxist agenda.
    His enemy is true conservatives. His elk is the front line of defense for the Dem agenda.
    HE HAS TO GO!!!

    Shame of Frontpage for this Dem propaganda.

    • Spiritof1776

      He is the architect of DISASTER!

  • cynthia curran

    vigorously oppose any and all amnesty proposals for illegal immigrants. I moreover oppose Hispanic and black "outreach" as inherently futile (how about if we actually reached out to the white vote?). That said, this piece grasps that excommuncating Karl Rove would be highly counterproductive for the GOP. Our party, regrettably, has nominated any number of social conservatives for high office whose personal histories and bizarre, off-the-cuff remarks are a total liability for responsible conservatives.

    What we really need is a Third Way — an alternative to amnesty-boosters like Rove, Rubio and Ryan, on one hand, and fundamantalist airheads like Palin, O'Donnell, Bachmann, Mourdock and Akin. Such an approach would eschew religious fervor as well as Big Government. Are there any takers?
    Agree, Bush got the votes many from Religous Conseratives and the Big Business elties that support legalizaiotn of illegal HIspanics and guestworker progarams. I think the social issues shoul e more of a state issue than a national issue and we could aim at a lot of whites that are tired of the bad immirggation are politicans push.

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  • cynthia curran

    Illegal aliens are a destructive force in this country If you think illegal aliens are destructive why defend Rubio who is apart of the gang of 8 and called whites racists for not supporitng the legalzation process of Hispanics, Rubio is just a cheap labor Republcan he is no hero. Cruz is better but I prefer Lamar Smith.

  • mlcblog

    Seems Rove is fearful of fiery rhetoric altogether, which in my opinion is just what we need to stir the people's resolve.

  • Viet Vet

    There is NO defense for Rove!!!

  • NotJohnGault

    The reaction of Rove is a survival reaction. The tea party's opportunity to influence the repub. party exists during the primary where the enthusiasm gap favors us.

    Due to gerrymandering the general election is predictable. The primaries are the wildcard and the Achilles heal of the national party's grip on power.

    Tea party groups will continue to infiltrate through this back door and wrest control of the national party away from the rino's and progressives.

    God save our country and be our guide!

  • Raymond

    PECANS IN THE CEMETERY

    On the outskirts of a small town, there was a big old pecan tree just inside
    the cemetery fence. One day, two boys filled up a bucketful of nuts and sat
    down by the tree, out of sight, and began dividing the nuts.

    'One for you, one for me, one for you, one for me,' said one boy. Several dropped
    and rolled down toward the fence.

    Another boy came riding along the road on his bicycle. As he passed, he thought he
    heard voices from inside the cemetery, so he slowed down to investigate. Sure enough,
    he heard, 'One for you, one for me,one for you, one for me…'

    He just knew what it was. He jumped back on his bike and rode off. Just around the
    bend he met an old man with a cane, hobbling along.

    'Come here quick,' said the boy, 'you won't believe what I heard! Satan and the Lord are
    down at the cemetery dividing up the souls!'

    The man said, 'Beat it kid, can't you see it's hard for me to walk. When the boy insisted though,
    the man hobbled slowly to the cemetery.

    Standing by the fence they heard, 'One for you, one for me. One for you, one for me.'

    The old man whispered, 'Boy, you've been tellin' me the truth. Let's see if we can see the Lord!

    Shaking with fear, they peered through the fence, yet were still unable to see anything.
    The old man and the boy gripped the wrought iron bars of the fence tighter and tighter as
    they tried to get a glimpse of the Lord.

    At last they heard, 'One for you, one for me. That's all. Now let's go get those nuts by the
    fence and we'll be done…'

    They say the old man had the lead for a good half-mile before the kid on the bike passed him.