The New GOP Civil War

Can Karl Rove's new group succeed?

ByABC News
February 6, 2013, 7:12 PM

Feb. 7, 2013 -- "There is now an out in the open civil war within the Republican Party," conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace wrote in a Politico op-ed this week.

He's right.

Karl Rove has launched a new group, the Conservative Victory Project, which will aim to select GOP Senate candidates, weeding out future Todd Akins and squashing the prospects of anyone deemed unelectable.

It's not sitting well with conservatives. Its first purported opponent is Steve King, a very conservative congressman with a history of colorful comments, who may be considering a run for Senate in Iowa.

After the pantheon of Tea Party campaign groups (The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express) bashed the new effort, on Wednesday a cluster of conservative leaders demanded the new organization fire its spokesman, Jonathan Collegio, for calling Brent Bozell, a pundit who runs the conservative Media Research Center, a "hater" in a recent radio interview. Collegio had alleged that Bozell, a critic, has an ax to grind against Rove.

"His attack was not grounded in reason or principle," they wrote to Stephen F. Law, who will head up the new group. "On behalf of the conservative movement, we are demanding you terminate Mr. Collegio. An apology is not acceptable."

The list of 25 signers included Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, Manuel Miranda and Richard Viguerie -- all big names in the conservative grassroots.

"Rove is no conservative," Terence Jeffrey, editor in chief of the conservative CNS News, wrote in a pointed editorial.

The controversy had reached a fever pitch earlier on Wednesday as Shirley and Bannister, the conservative PR firm representing the new anti-Rove coalition, shopped around unsolicited commentary from a conservative author willing to criticize Rove on the record -- a sure sign that the story had attained du jour status.

Collegio has pointed to the conservative candidates the Rove's super PAC, American Crossroads, has backed, asserting that Crossroads has spent more than any other group to elect Tea Party Senate candidates. Speaking to the ABC/Yahoo! Video series "Top Line" this week, Collegio cited Marco Rubio and Rand Paul as conservative grassroots candidates who enjoyed Rove's support.

Schisms in outside spending on primaries are nothing new. In several 2012 races, tea partiers and GOP-establishment groups squared off.

In Wisconsin, a three-way Senate primary split the tea party factions. The Club for Growth, Tea Party Express and the Senate Conservatives Fund all backed former Rep. Mark Neumann; FreedomWorks, meanwhile, backed businessman Eric Hovde. Former Gov. Tommy Thompson won the primary, only to lose to Democrat Tammy Baldwin in November.

In Missouri's Senate race, where Rep. Todd Akin won a multi-way primary before crumbling under the "legitimate rape" controversy, state treasurer Sarah Steelman won the backing of Tea Party Express and Sarah Palin, while the establishment-oriented U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed St. Louis businessman John Brunner.

In Indiana, the American Action Network and the Young Guns Network spent hundreds of thousands of dollars backing incumbent Duck Lugar over Club-for-Growth and FreedomWorks-backed Richard Mourdock, the tea partier who lost after saying pregnancies resulting from rape were intended by God.