February 4, 2013

How likely is it that the new Karl Rove initiative to raise money to defeat terrible candidates in Republican primaries will be successful?

My guess is: only slightly better than the chance that, as Steve Kornacki suspects, it could backfire.

The problem is that no one really thinks that the problems for Dick Lugar and Bob Bennett, both of whom lost primary nominations (and, in Lugar’s case, eventually a Republican Senate seat), had anything to do with any difficulty raising money.

Moreover, it’s unlikely that Republican Senate recruiting failures in states such as Pennsylvania, Florida, and Michigan for 2012 had anything at all to do with good potential candidates who doubted they could raise enough money to make the race. And, despite all the attention paid to the handful of Todd Akins and Sharron Angles, it’s the larger group of seats which might have been competitive but were not that might be the biggest problem for Republicans.

I’m not sure that all this means that Rove’s group will be counterproductive, perhaps by drawing a target for tea-partyers on the backs of those it supports. But Kornacki is right about groups that might oppose Rove’s project: “given their demonstrated ability to rile up the conservative grass roots and deliver serious financial boosts to their preferred candidates, they probably have the means to fight Rove’s new effort.”

On the other hand, in at least a few cases, poor candidates slipped through multicandidate GOP primaries because more electable choices spent the primary targeting each other, allowing a lesser-known choice to appear pure by comparison. It’s possible to imagine the Rove group being effective in that kind of contest, making sure that obscure figures who few in the party want to win take as much incoming fire as the more established politicians. Maybe.

Most likely, however, it’s going to take a whole lot more than just a bit more money on one side to change what’s wrong with the Republican Party. It’s worth paying attention to Rove’s initiative because of what might emerge from it, but by itself I think it’s unlikely it will do much.