Who’s Afraid of Karl Rove?

In all the commentary over Karl Rove’s announced intention of making his American Crossroads outfit a big crazy-crushing player in Republican primaries in 2014, I’ve mainly confined myself to criticizing the planted axioms that Rove and the candidates he is likely to support are “moderates,” or that his wars of words with Tea Types represent some actual ideological (as opposed to strategic/tactical) division in the GOP.

But like a lot of observers, I am beginning to wonder what Rove was thinking about in undertaking this initiative, and particularly in making it so loud-and-proud. He is not what you’d call a beloved figure in conservative politics, having (a) authored most of the Bush administration policy initiatives more recently denounced as “betrayals of conservative principle,” and (b) raised and spent an awful lot of money in 2012 without particularly impressive results.

On the very face of it, Rove’s primaries initiative doesn’t make a great deal of sense in that money has rarely been the main shortcoming of the kind of candidates his group will apparently be backing, as 538’s Nate Silver convincingly demonstrates today. And even if in theory some quiet last-minute money could help an “establishment” candidate survive a challenge from tomorrow’s Christine O’Donnells or Richard Mourdocks, why broadcast in advance that your contributions are going to be triggered by the fear that the party rank-and-file is perpetually in danger of nominating idiots and losers?

More to the point, Rove’s high visibility and the provocative challenge he is issuing to the Tea Folk is going to paint a great big bullseye on the back of anyone the “Conservative Victory Fund” chooses to support or even consider supporting. Rove underling Steven Law went out of his way to finger Iowa’s Steve King as the sort of Senate candidate the group would try to intimidate and/or spend into withdrawal or submission. King immediately used the threat to raise money of his own in anticipation of a possible race. How do you think presumed Rove beneficiary Tom Latham, whom King would likely destroy in a primary, feels about how that’s all working out?

Rove is certainly arrogant enough to try this sort of stunt anyway, and devious enough to have some hidden agenda or secondary plan. But at this point he seems to be setting himself up as a punching bag.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.