After the 2012 elections didn’t quite go the way the GOP wanted it, Republicans responded by impaneling a team of experts to divine what hard lessons needed to be learn, and come up with a long-term strategy to get back on the winning side. That effort yielded the 100-page “Growth And Opportunity Project” report (more colloquially known as the “RNC Autopsy”). Progress on this venture has been decidedly mixed, at best.
Elsewhere, however, key GOP figures were contemplating a short-term solution, focused on the 2014 midterms. Chief among them was former Bush adviser and Fox News contributor Karl Rove. His vision: the Conservative Victory Project. Its goal: No more Todd Akins! Rove attributed key GOP losses to the fact that too many undisciplined candidates were making it through party primaries and into general elections against Democratic candidates that more seasoned, established GOP candidates could beat.
In an interesting coincidence of timing, Rove’s project launched around the same time that Iowa’s Democratic senator, Tom Harkin, announced he would be retiring. Subsequently, one of the first people to end up in the crosshairs of Rove’s new organization was U.S. Rep. Steve King of Iowa. As The New York Times reported at the time:
Representative Steve King, a six-term Iowa Republican, could be among the earliest targets of the Conservative Victory Project. He said he had not decided whether he would run for the Senate, but the leaders of the project in Washington are not waiting to try to steer him away from the race.
The group’s plans, which were outlined for the first time last week in an interview with [American Crossroads president Steven J.] Law, call for hard-edge campaign tactics, including television advertising, against candidates whom party leaders see as unelectable and a drag on the efforts to win the Senate. Mr. Law cited Iowa as an example and said Republicans could no longer be squeamish about intervening in primary fights.
“We’re concerned about Steve King’s Todd Akin problem,” Mr. Law said. “This is an example of candidate discipline and how it would play in a general election. All of the things he’s said are going to be hung around his neck.”
Iowa ended up with Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst as their standardbearer in that Senate race, and while she’s pushed the envelope in the wrong direction at times, she’s more or less proved to be a manageable candidate. (Though it arguably helped Ernst that the media, by and large, chose to give her multiple passes.) Over in Colorado, Rove got the sort of candidate he prefers in U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner — again, a manageable alternative to Ken Buck. Throughout the primary season, Republicans avoided elevating the types of candidates — your Todd Akins, Sharron Angles, and Richard Mourdocks — that had previously sunk ambitions.
Tuesday, in the critical Colorado and Iowa races, Gardner and Ernst both prevailed, beating established Democratic candidates thought to have superior ground operations. The GOP may still need to revisit that “RNC autopsy.” But in the short term, what Karl Rove wanted to get, he got.
— Jason Linkins
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