Rove’s Folly

In this October 2009 file photo, former White House senior adviser Karl Rove answers a question at Penn State University in State College, Pa. (AP Photo/John Beale, File)

The New York Times reported this weekend that Karl Rove’s American Crossroads will be mounting a new effort to engage in Republican primaries to weed out potential embarrassing losses like the ones suffered by Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Murdoch in Indiana.

Steven Law, Crossroads’ president, told The Times: “There is a broad concern about having blown a significant number of races because the wrong candidates were selected."

That’s an understatement.

Between Missouri and Indiana in 2012, and Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado in 2010, Republicans could control 50 votes in the Senate if not for Tea Party candidates defeating mainstream Republicans in primaries. This does not factor in extra resources spent ensuring the voters in Delaware knew the chosen candidate of the Republican Party was “not a witch” as opposed to being spent in other races.

What’s significant about Crossroads’ decision is not the continued outsourcing of traditional party functions to independent groups, but instead the ignorance of the nature of grassroots on the part of establishment players, both right and left, that undergird these strategies.

Here’s the rub: you can’t put down an insurgency from 20,000 feet in the air – especially one you helped start. Rove, his employer at Fox News, and their colleagues in the conservative media helped to galvanize conservative grassroots anger at the President in early 2009. They encouraged the growth of the Tea Party movement in 2010 as its grassroots anger was seen as critical to the Republican cause of taking back Congress.

Toward the end of that cycle, Rove himself began to recognize the rot the tea party was inflicting on Republicans and speaking out against it, ending up in a public feud with Sarah Palin.

Now attempting to bottle that anger belies a fundamental misunderstanding of how grassroots operate at both ends of the ideological spectrum. Real grassroots passion will trump Washington dollars in most cases. And even if Rove’s choice candidate emerges, they will inevitably be bloodied from a nasty primary battle.

The choice candidates of the Republican establishment are not lacking in millions of dollars for negative ads – instead they lack a passionate following on the ground called to action by their beliefs. This is something Rove and his seven-figure donors cannot purchase.

Eric Erickson, founder of and Rove’s newly minted colleague at Fox News, summed up this feeling by sarcastically thanking the Svengali for making “it really easy now to figure out who the terrible candidates will be in 2014.”

As least the admission from Rove that the conservative base is so far out of touch with the mainstream and reality that they make it impossible to win statewide office is quite gratifying.