One year out from the 2014 midterm elections, a key staffer for the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued a stern warning to outside groups that the establishment is ready and willing to strike back in critical primaries next year.
NRSC executive director Rob Collins told reporters during a briefing on Tuesday the committee was in “the wins business” and if that meant spending in primary contests to keep their general election candidate viable or an incumbent safe, so be it.
“There’s no rules,” NRSC executive director Rob Collins said. “I treat every state differently, the path to getting a general election candidate who can win is the only thing we care about.”
The tough talk is the latest salvo from the NRSC in the ongoing spat with outside conservative groups who threaten to derail establishment-backed candidates with primary challengers that some Republicans feel are not ready for prime time.
Last week, the NRSC told the New York Times they have discouraged GOP from hiring the main consulting fund that works with the Senate Conservatives Fund.
Over the past few weeks, the Senate Conservatives Fund has ramped up its endorsements of anti-establishment candidates taking on Republican incumbents and top-tier candidates, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Rep. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), a top GOP recruit to run against Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.).
Matt Hoskins, executive director for the Senate Conservatives Fund, said the NRSC is more focused on "trying to re-elect the old" Senate than "trying to build a new Senate."
"The NRSC has every right to support candidates in primaries, but they can't pretend their goal is to win a majority when they work against conservative candidates in solid Republican states where the conservative is just as electable as the establishment candidate," Hoskins said. " It shows that their true objective is to protect incumbents and to elect moderates even if it wastes money and hurts the party."
Still, Collins downplayed any friction between the establishment and the tea party, saying that while they may “disagree” on some of the primary candidates, the two factions wanted the same result from the 2014 elections.
“In the short term I don’t see this as a huge conflict between us and outside groups, I think people inartfully say it’s us versus the tea party, that’s not right,” he said.
“In order for us to win in the fall and also elect the right candidate, we need the tea party, we need the business crowd, we need everybody pulling on the same oar.”
While Collins indicated that the NRSC’s resources vastly outweighed that of groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, he acknowledged that six-figure ad buys and contentious primaries would be a “challenge” for the campaign committee.
“A lot of the states that we care about are reflexively Republican, so yes, there will be a debate in these primaries about who’s the better Republican ... who should carry the banner in the general,” he said.
But once the primaries are over, Collins said, he is confident that the various factions in the Republican Party will back the candidate that wins.
“That’s what we do after a primary, you put it all together, you unify and you move on,” he said.