Let's put ideology aside for a moment.
Karl Rove, architect of the George W. Bush-era Republican victories, says he's sick of fanatics running his party into the ground. So he's devised a strategy to pre-emptively sink unelectable candidates early in the process. He's formed a new super PAC to implement this strategy. It's called the Conservative Victory Project, and it's led by a guy named Steven Law, who was the head of another super PAC, called American Crossroads, which went something like 0-7 in the 2012 election cycle. (Not that anyone's counting.)
Grass-roots conservatives, needless to say, are quite perturbed. "I'm filing the paperwork to form a super PAC to support freedom-loving conservative alternatives to (Karl Rove) on FOX," tweeted former Rep. Joe Walsh. Surely, he won't be the last to counter Rove's efforts.
Suspicions about establishment Republicans are well-founded, but Rove has a point, as well. Purely as a tactical matter, why not weed out inept— or insane—candidates before they start spouting off about a woman's organic ability to prevent pregnancy when raped? I'm no Sun Tzu, but winning elections seems to be a crucial part of politics. And if being right were enough, I'd be buying my lunch with a $20 bill featuring former two-term president Barry Goldwater.
Law says that Republicans have "blown a significant number of races" because candidates prone to the chillingly bizarre have won GOP primaries before falling to Democrats. We need not relive them all. Then again, it's also fair to say that if the "establishment" had gotten its grubby RINO paws on GOP primaries, America would be without some of the most interesting Republicans out there—Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Mike Lee and Rand Paul, for starters. All this only proves that you can be successful and philosophically committed (well, as committed as a politician can be).
Actually, you needn't look further than President Barack Obama, whether you're a fan or not, to see what the entire package looks like—a man who is dedicated to ideology and has the political acumen to spin populist demagoguery and, ultimately, enjoy political success.
So the GOP civil war is based on a false choice. Surely, people exist in America who can placate both sides of the divide. Surely, there are charismatic candidates available to articulate enticing arguments in defense of limited government. Surely, there are limited-government types who can successfully implement fiscal conservative reforms (even in far-flung places, such as Wisconsin) and remain popular.
And just as surely, not every candidate can look the same. The Conservative Victory Project says that its aim is to institutionalize William F. Buckley's rule: Support the most conservative candidate who is electable. The most electable conservative candidate in the Northeast isn't going to be a social conservative. It's that simple.
"If ... people think the best we can do is Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, they're wrong," Rove recently explained. "We need to do better if we hope to take over the United States Senate. We need to get better conservative candidates and win." Rove may be the wrong person to play kingmaker, but what's wrong with the sentiment? Republicans, despite the belief of many grass-roots activists, don't have a crisis of philosophy (the party is about as conservative as ever); they have a roster problem. A message problem. A persuasion problem. Right or wrong, they're not winning arguments.
So though Rove's recent history might not be impressive, he's got a point: If Republicans worried as much about quality as they did about purity, they might be better off.