The New GOP Civil War

Now, however, Rove's new group has become an emblem of the grassroots-vs.-establishment divide -- one that has roiled the GOP since tea parties began in 2009. While American Action Network and the Chamber of Commerce may have toed an establishment line last year, Rove has provoked outright, directed anger.

"What Rove presents is a public face to this," Deace said, noting that outside-spending groups aren't well known to the average primary voter. "Rove is a national name."

After all the criticism it's received, the new endeavor's mission already appears potentially endangered: The minute Conservative Victory Project favors a candidate, an "establishment" label could be permanently applied, damaging that candidate in a primary.

Iowa Republican Party Chairman A.J. Spiker said baggage comes with any kind of outside spending -- from Rove's group, or from those who've criticized it.

"If you have two candidates, and candidate A is being opposed by a super PAC or another entity, it becomes very clear very quickly who is supporting who, and voters are pretty smart," Spiker told ABC News. "I don't expect, especially in a state like Iowa, that they're going to ignore who's paying for these things. They'll notice who's paying, and it'll backfire."

Deace more boldly predicted that Rove's group would fail.

"That person is walking in with a major bulls eye and major baggage," Deace said of any candidate backed by the Conservative Victory Project. "We are rapidly approaching the point where you're almost better off with Barack Obama's endorsement in a GOP primary than Karl Rove's."

It's not entirely clear whether the group will actually support anyone, and its mission appears more neatly suited to the attack-dog role: finding candidates who can't win and airing negative ads to crush them, rather than offering endorsements.

Collegio, the Conservative Victory Project spokesman, countered that the new group won't pick its opponents according to ideology -- rather, electability.

"This will apply to so-called 'establishment' candidates as much as it will to Tea Party candidates," Collegio wrote in an email. "If a candidate is undisciplined or is not raising money, red flags will be raised."

Still, it's easier said than done. For one, Conservative Victory Project will have to identify the "bad" candidates. To hear Collegio tell it, the rubric will be twofold: Can the candidate raise money, and is he or she acceptable to the general electorate? The group will have to become umpire of a political gray area. Red-meat conservatives often call President Obama a socialist; would that kind of remark raise such a flag?

We're about to find out. In Georgia, conservative Rep. Paul Broun announced his Senate candidacy on Wednesday. He recently purported, in a TV interview, that, "I think the only Constitution that Barack Obama upholds is the Soviet constitution, not this one."

Georgia is a conservative state, and if Broun can rake in enough cash, such a comment is unlikely to sink him.

What will Rove's new group do? And, whatever it does, will it work?

"One great thing about the Republican Party is it's a party of ideas, and it's a marketplace, and we'll find out if there's a marketplace for groups like that," Spiker, the Iowa GOP chair, told ABC News. "I suspect there will be blowback from it, and it may end up being counterproductive in the end."

The GOP has a distant an opportunity to gain Senate seats in 10 states next year, and a realistic chance to pick up about seven. Bad candidates will certainly arise. The trick will be finding them before they self-destruct.

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