Let's go straight to the scoreboard.
Denny Rehberg in Montana, Rick Berg in North Dakota, George Allen in Virginia, Connie Mack in Florida, Heather Wilson in New Mexico and, of course, former two-term governor Tommy Thompson in Wisconsin. All establishment candidates. All positioned near the center of the Republican Party. All in more-or-less winnable elections last November and all defeated in embarrassing fashion last November 6.
Also on the losing end that day, Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, two from the more conservative branch of the party, both undone by remarks about sanctity-of-life issues they likely never would've voted on as senators. And in 2010, when Republicans were delivering that "shellacking" in the midterms, Sharron Angle of Nevada, Ken Buck of Colorado, and Christine O'Donnell of Delaware—all darlings of the right—lost winnable races.
So let's admit it: Both sides in what ABC News is calling "The new GOP Civil War" have a point when they call the other side's formula for choosing and backing candidates a failure. Both can point to successes. And both can point to instances where their political philosophy is being blamed unfairly—Akin was the third of three choices of Tea Partyers in Missouri, and Heather Wilson never had a chance in New Mexico.
With all that in mind, what are we to make of Karl Rove's new venture, the Conservative Victory Project? Is it, as former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour suggests, "a bad idea whose time has come?" Or is it yet another quixotic Rovian quest that squanders more money, divides more conservatives, and produces less and less in the way of concrete results?
The point Rove makes has merit. The real impediment to national greatness is not opponents in some Republican primary but President Obama—the most radically leftist president in our lifetimes. And with control of the Senate achievable in 2014, Republicans would do well to remember the Buckley Rule—in primaries, support the most conservative candidate who is electable.
That's why the current contretemps seems a.) largely a creation of a left-wing media that delights in destructive warfare on the right; and b.) not a bad thing, all in all.
Consider two hot races we'll likely see in 2014—open Senate seats in Georgia and Iowa. In Georgia, Rep. Paul Broun, a firebrand, seems set to run against Rep. Tom Price and Rep. Tom Graves—both candidates Rove's group would be more likely to back. In Iowa, it figures to be Rep. Tom Latham on the Rove side and Rep. Steven King on the other. What's important is both groups will have ample money to make their points. The Republicans of Georgia and Iowa will judge. And the strongest candidates—as they define it—will move on.
The truth is neither side has a lock on the winning formula because the formula itself changes from state to state and even within some states. And more important than the formula is the candidate—Ted Cruz was extremely strong in Texas; Akin extremely weak in Missouri. Ideological soul mates. But no one can argue it was as smart to spend on Akin as on Cruz.
We're a party of ideas. Let those ideas compete. Let Karl play. And let his opponents grow strong. As Rep. Tom Cole, the Oklahoman and former chief House fundraiser says, when it comes to primaries, "the more the merrier."
About Ford O'Connell Republican Strategist, Conservative Activist, and Political Analyst
Jamie Chandler Political Scientist at Hunter College
Lara Brown Author of 'Jockeying for the American Presidency: The Political Opportunism of Aspirants'