Dissension within GOP-land. Pass the popcorn!

Don’t you just love it when wingnuts fight amongst themselves?

Call this round “The Empire Strikes Back.” The New York Times is reporting that some of the top donors in the G.O.P., frustrated by the Tea Party’s success in gaining nominations for far-right candidates in senate primaries, only to have them lose in the general election, is forming a new group aimed at nominating more mainstream candidates. Their goal is to win back G.O.P. control of the senate.

The group, which is called the Conservative Victory Project, is part of the American Crossroads super PAC, and is backed by Karl Rove, among others. Given Rove’s track record of late, this hardly bodes well. And already, conservative groups like the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund are mocking the effort as “the Conservative Defeat Fund.”

The Times reports that the first major battle for the new group could be the Republican senate primary in Iowa, where veteran Democratic senator Tom Harkin recently announced his retirement. The Tea Party faction is trying to recruit Rep. Steve King, while the Crossroads group wants to defeat him. But according to an article in Politico, there’s a fear that an anti-King campaign might only create a backlash of support for him.

My heart bleeds. Truly.

I understand the Crossroads dudes’ frustration. It seems clear to me that the G.O.P. could have gained control over the senate, had the base not insisted on nominating numbskull candidates like Christine O’Donnell in 2010, and Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock last year. But they have a very delicate balancing act on their hands as they seek to nominate candidates that are acceptable to mainstream, yet also pass muster with the cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs base.

It’s hard to say how all this will play out. On the one hand, the base doesn’t seem to be getting any saner; then again, eventually, they will get tired of losing. As for the Crossroads, establishment types, they seem badly out of touch — after Karl Rove’s election night meltdown, would you trust him to organize a Sunday school picnic? In the Times article, Grover Norquist, who’s a pretty shrewd operator, seems to be playing it both ways. He says he supports the pragmatism of the Crossroads effort, but also points out that the G.O.P. establishment candidates haven’t fared so well of late, either.

One problem for the G.O.P. as a whole is that it is currently rudderless. There are no clear political or even intellectual leaders. Rush Limbaugh is now the one figure who comes closest to being the party’s true leader.

It will be fascinating to see how this split resolves itself. Or doesn’t.

Kathleen Geier

Kathleen Geier is a writer and public policy researcher who lives in Chicago. She blogs at Inequality Matters. Find her on Twitter: @Kathy_Gee