Political Animal


February 04, 2013 9:32 AM Rove vs. King

By Ed Kilgore

Yesterday Kathleen Geier noted the most interesting political story of the weekend: the rapidly escalating war of words on the Right between so-called “Establishment” Republicans led by Karl Rove and Tea Party “Conservatives” as represented by past and future Senate candidates deemed “undisciplined.” The immediate flash-point is a gratuitous slap at U.S. Rep. Steve King (R-IA), a potential candidate for Tom Harkin’s open Senate seat next year, by American Crossroads president Steven Law by way of explaining to the New York Times’ Jeff Zeleny the purpose of a new Conservative Victory Project the group is unveiling:

The group’s plans, which were outlined for the first time last week in an interview with Mr. 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.”

I am mystified by this gambit from Rove’s hireling. Yes, Steve King is crazy as sack of rats. But the man is an excellent retail politician back home with an intensely loyal following. If the idea of Law’s macho posturing was to intimidate King from a Senate race, it is very likely to backfire. The Iowa Republican’s Kevin Hall explains:

Steve King is beloved by Iowa conservatives and if you go to war with him, we will go to war with you …
Telling Steve King he can’t do something is also a surefire way to get him to prove you wrong. I’m sure people like me saying he can’t win a statewide general election was enough to rile up the good Congressman. But having a so-called “conservative” group spending big bucks to attack him is likely to spur King to fight back … And he’ll have a few hundred thousand Iowa Republicans fighting alongside him …

And this is from a guy who has all but endorsed Tom Latham—the presumed Rove favorite to represent the GOP in the Iowa Senate race.

More generally, I will issue an early warning about how the MSM will once again turn this kind of intra-GOP battle over strategy and tactics—and power—into some sort of ideological struggle, with the Rovians treated as “moderates” and the Steve Kings of the world as plain old average-white-guy conservatives—you know, sort of the conservative equivalents of Barack Obama.

My own ultimate test for “extremism” is whether the person in question would be perfectly happy with a one-party dictatorship for his or her “team,” with the “other team” being silenced or perhaps hauled off to prison. Every single thing about Karl Rove’s history tells me that he would cheerfully, giddily endorse that scenario. He may consider Steve King a poor instrument for achieving that happy destination, but I doubt a country ruled by either would feel a bit differently.

So while we can all enjoy a power battle between these two men on King’s own turf, let’s don’t get fooled into calling it a “struggle for the soul of the GOP” or any such thing. That struggle ended with the final conquest of the Republican Party by the conservative movement in 2009, and won’t reemerge until they lose at least one more national election. But you will never hear that from folks on the Right, who have every reason, internal and external, to exaggerate their differences as they jockey for position.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on February 04, 2013 9:53 AM:

    Can't argue with your assessment, Ed.

    But, I'm gonna see what popcorn futures are going for this morning.

    This has the potential to, at least, be entertaining.

    And, it has at least a little bit of possibility as far as a wake-up call, for the MSM.

    They haven't seen Repubicans argue in public.
    Democrats do that all of the time, and have for a century.

    Republicans don't normally air their dirty laundry in public, so that may shock some of the blockiest of the blockheads in the MSM.

    But, probably not.

    They'll find something the Democrats are doing or have done, or aren't and haven't, and use that to stick to the old "Both sides do it!" meme.

    Probably not a wake-up call at all.
    More's the pity...

  • JPS on February 04, 2013 10:35 AM:

    Please send Kathleen Geier packing. I no longer read the PA on weekends whenever her name appears. I'm not alone, I'm sure. Just one of the many out here who finally decided to speak up.

  • biggerbox on February 04, 2013 10:54 AM:

    As long as the continued squabbling between factions continues to convince voters that the GOP is so crazy they can't even agree on which of their out-of-the-mainstream positions they believe in, I think I'll be happily munching popcorn.

  • esaud on February 04, 2013 11:28 AM:

    It shows just how far off the rails the GOP (and media enablers) have gone, that an unscrupulous bagman like Rove is considered "establishment". They used to do all of their ratf%%%ing in the dark. Now it's in the open, to the delight of tabbies like Sally Quinn.

    PS - I like Kathleen on the weekends.

  • c u n d gulag on February 04, 2013 12:04 PM:

    Yeah, I like Kathleen, too!

  • Citizen Alan on February 04, 2013 2:11 PM:

    Cheers to Kathleen for explaining clearly and concisely why every decent American should despise Karl Rove. The man is an outright fascist who thinks the Republicans should rule America the way the Baathists used to rule Iraq. Sometimes, I wonder if the reason the Bushies had such a hard-on to take down Saddam was simple jealousy of the fact that he ran Iraq pretty much exactly the way they want to run America.

  • Doug on February 04, 2013 2:46 PM:

    Wouldn't the GOP have to HAVE a soul before it could fought over?

  • Dave Swenson on February 04, 2013 7:44 PM:

    I am a long time observer of Mr. King and his acolytes. While a strand of Republican, and mostly rural, Iowans supports him strongly, his negatives are pretty potent statewide.

    I bet you a dollar to a doughnut the man does not try for the senate. Out of his comfort zone (his rural and reactionary 4th District) he is very timid. Dollar to a doughnut says he won't run.

    Dave Swenson