Talk about a political disaster.
The other day I closed a piece on Karl Rove by saying that in launching what he called the “Conservative Victory Project” Mr. Rove had made a big mistake.
A really big mistake.
The group, described here in the New York Times as “intended to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles,” has had a horrific reception among conservatives
Yesterday the big mistake became bigger. Much bigger. A thunderstorm became Katrina.
Yesterday, American Crossroads spokesman Jonathan Collegio went on Washington, D.C. radio station WMAL’s Mornings on the Mall show hosted by Brian Wilson and Larry O’Connor.
And among other things casually dismissed Brent Bozell, the president of the Media Research Center as a “hater” -- and worse.
Here’s the link to 8.27 minutes worth of the WMAL audio.
Toward the end of the interview, Collegio is asked about criticism of Rove from Bozell. Bozell had appeared on the show the day before to voice his unhappiness, and written a column about Rove’s effort as well.
Bozell, the nephew of the late William F. Buckley, Jr., whose father wrote the bestselling conservative classic Conscience of a Conservative with Barry Goldwater in the early 1960’s, wrote in part:
Rove argues that Republican fortunes have been ruined by “far-right conservatives,” but he's shamelessly calling this entity the “Conservative Victory Project.” Yes, and I could call myself Ray Lewis, but it doesn't make it so.
Whaddaya know? The liberal Democrats at the Times love this idea. They call it "the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party." They would love a group to "discipline" conservatives right out of the GOP nominating process. What the heck? They could call themselves "conservative," too.
It's reminiscent of all the reporters who desperately wanted Colin Powell to run for president in 1996 because apparently Bob Dole was too fringy, and, as Howard Fineman said at the time, reporters "want a Republican Party they can live with.”
For this and other apparent sins in both his column and radio interview, Collegio casually called Bozell a “hater” with “a long, sordid history” who also “had weird personal axes to grind.” One of which, the hate word surfacing again, was that Bozell supposedly hated Karl Rove.
Host Brian Wilson was clearly taken aback -- but time was up. An astonished Wilson ended the segment by saying: “Can open, worms everywhere. Oh my gosh. We’re out of time.”
Worms everywhere indeed.
Within hours the following letter from over 20 of the nation’s prominent conservative leaders was in the hands of The American Spectator. It demanded Mr. Collegio’s head. Addressed to Stephen Law, the President and CEO of American Crossroads, and written on the letterhead of the conservative activist group Citizens for the Republic, the letter reads in full as follows:
February 6, 2013
Mr. Steven Law
President & Chief Executive Officer
P.O. Box 34413
Washington, DC 20043
Dear Mr. Law,
We, the free men and women of this great nation, affirm everyone’s natural right to speak their mind, but we cannot and will not abide the unjust, personal broadside your aide Jonathan Collegio leveled against a man whose family has dedicated itself to advancing the cause of liberty for over half a century.
This morning Mr. Collegio attacked L. Brent Bozell, III and labeled him as a “hater” twice in an interview. His attack was not grounded in reason or principle; its justification was nothing more than disagreement with your newly formed organization.
Mr. Bozell is what we call in our movement a “legacy.” He has devoted his life to the cause of American conservatism as did his father, Brent Bozell II, who wrote “Conscience of a Conservative” for Barry Goldwater.
Maybe you’ve heard of Brent’s uncle, Bill Buckley, whose words you misquote and twist as the basis for your organization enough to falsely suggest you know something about him.
You may have heard of his other uncle, Jim Buckley, a former U.S. Senator, or Brent’s mother, Patricia Buckley Bozell—both important figures and writers in our conservative movement.
Ronald Reagan often saluted the contributions of the Bozell and Buckley families to the cause of American conservatism.
Mr. Collegio calling Mr. Bozell a “hater” publicly on WMAL radio this morning reflects the language of the establishment Republicans. It is the divisive language of the Left.
Rather than engaging in an intellectual debate, you, Mr. Collegio, Mr. Rove, and others in the consultant class attack good conservatives and Tea Party leaders and members.
On behalf of the conservative movement, we are demanding you terminate Mr. Collegio. An apology is not acceptable.
American Crossroads and the so-called Conservative Victory Project have already been severely marginalized. The sheer audacity of political consultants maligning a beloved and critically important player in American history is simply a bridge too far.
You obviously mean to have a war with conservatives and the Tea Party.
Let it start here.
Citizens for the Republic
Jenny Beth Martin
Co-Founder and National Coordinator
Tea Party Patriots
The Weyrich Lunch
Mathew D. Staver
Founder and Chairman
Family Research Council
Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute
Third Branch Conference
Fischer Furniture, Inc.
President of Corporate Affairs
American Target Advertising
David N. Bossie
Richard F. Norman
Founder and President
The Richard Norman Company
Crisis Management, Inc.
Angelo M. Codevilla
Americans for Limited Government
Peter J. Thomas
The Conservative Caucus Inc.
Let Freedom Ring
Traditional Values Coalition
Center for Security Policy
Citizen's Patriot Response
I contacted Mr. Collegio directly for a response. As follows:
This is Jeff Lord from The American Spectator.
I understand you appeared on WMAL and twice referred to Brent Bozell as a “hater.” Mr. Bozell is the head of the Media Research Center, a longtime conservative leader as well as an ally of President Reagan.
• Why would you describe Mr. Bozell in this fashion?
• Is this the view of Karl Rove and American Crossroads?
• Is this your view of the conservative movement and its leaders?
• Do you believe this is an effective way to communicate the goals of American Crossroads?
• Do you believe you owe Mr. Bozell an apology?
I will be happy to print your response verbatim in The American Spectator in my column tomorrow. My deadline today is 4pm.
Thanks for your time.
Shortly thereafter Mr. Collegio responded:
My words -- they belong to no one else.
Bozell called us "fake conservatives" -- which is language that perniciously and unfairly judges the motives of others, and fails to acknowledge that there might be honest differences on strategy within the conservative movement.
For my part: I said that in the heat of a talk radio debate, I regret contributing to the vitriol, and I apologize to Mr. Bozell if it offended him. Believe it or not, I'm a big fan of both him and MRC.
Wow. Can of worms is right.
Asked for comment, Bozell politely declined.
The Washington Examiner has now reported that Collegio was sounding not quite as politely repentant as he was in his e-mail to me. Told of the letter from all these heavy-duty conservatives, the paper reported the following:
Collegio mocked the letter, noting that some signatories had gone out of their way to help Christine O’Donnell win the 2010 GOP Senate primary in Delaware. He cited her as precisely the sort of candidate his organization would be working to stop. O’Donnell, whom some conservatives criticized at the time as a poor candidate, lost her general election by 17 points, despite outraising her Democratic opponent two-to-one.
“I’ve been trying to get my friends to sign it, because it’ll make for a funnier story once I get it framed,” Collegio said of the letter. “It would be flattering, if it weren’t so absurd.”
This is akin throwing gasoline on a fire.
But let’s stand back a moment.
This isn’t about the Conservative Victory Project. It isn’t, in the end, even about Karl Rove.
And for gleeful liberals watching all of this, it most certainly isn’t about Barack Obama.
This is about the resurgence of the decades-long battle between liberal/moderate/RINO Republicans and conservatives. Simply put: the Establishment GOP versus the party’s conservative base, which is the Tea Party and so much, much more.
With one very big difference from the initial spectacular battles that headlined names like Goldwater, Reagan, Rockefeller, Ford and Bush (as in George H.W. Bush.)
The dividing line is still there, yes.
The players have different names, yes. The Tea Party in its assorted appearances is essentially the stand-in for the views of Ronald Reagan. And in fact, the Tea Party began to come to life not in the Obama era -- but at the end of the Bush era, furious about TARP and Bush spending issues. Mr. Rove, whose entire career exists from his ties to the moderate/Establishment wing of the party (he began as a young aide to then-RNC chair George H.W. Bush) has effectively if unintentionally become the stand-in for the GOP Establishment that once scorned Reagan, fighting Reagan furiously in 1968, 1976, and again in 1980. Where stands Rove today stood the Ford White House or the Bush 41 White House and the campaigns that lost both those presidents a re-election.
But it’s a long time since a young Bill Buckley picked up his lance, mounted his horse and charged the behemoth that was and is the GOP Establishment. There have been defeats along the way -- lots of them. But there have been spectacular tide-turning victories as well, pre-eminent among them the Reagan presidency, the rise of talk radio, and Fox News.
This is a movement that honors those who, Buckley-like, are fearless in taking on the behemoth in their varying arenas.
One of those is Christine O’Donnell -- whose legitimacy comes because she and she alone dared to take on the GOP Eastern Establishment favorite in a Delaware Senate primary -- and beat him. The GOP voters of Delaware spoke.
Was Ms. O’Donnell a flawed candidate? Sure. Who isn’t? Mr. Rove of all people should remember the presidential campaign of 2000 when the last few days before the election the Republican candidate -- then-Governor George W. Bush -- had his campaign pushed off-stride because some bozo Democrat in Maine surfaced a Bush DUI problem. There are many to this day who believe the disastrous close of the 2000 election -- the whole Florida kerfuffle and the Supreme Court business -- resulted from an imperfect presidential candidate or campaign staff. Which, of course, prominently included Mr. Rove. In a perfect world? What? This would never have happened?
To be bipartisan about it, back in 1992, America really began to get introduced to Bill and Hillary Clinton because out of the blue a woman named Gennifer Flowers popped up claiming an affair with the then-Governor of Arkansas -- and possessing a tape that she claimed proved it. In a perfect world? What? This would never have happened?
The answer here is that there is no perfect world nor is there a perfect candidate. Nor is there a perfect president -- Ronald Reagan included.
But when a candidate’s primary opponents deliberately walk off the field after a loss -- or worse go over to the other side -- then what? This proved to be the case not only with Ms. O’Donnell’s GOP opponent and his pals in the 2010 Delaware Senate race (the National Republican Senatorial Committee was one of these, and Rove himself was on Fox News within minutes of the declaration of an O’Donnell victory trashing her) -- but with Senator Richard Lugar’s supporters in the Indiana Senate race in 2012.
Richard Mourdock was decidedly not a bad candidate -- he was, for heaven’s sake, the highly successful elected and re-elected state treasurer of Indiana. He was no Todd Akin. (And yes, we said here in this corner at the time Mr. Akin should step down.) Mourdock won his last re-election race 62%-38%, receiving over a million votes. His so-called rape comment was taken entirely out of context by the media -- a media that was decidedly hypocritical about the issue. One can only marvel at a media that went out of the way to cast the rape stone at Mourdock -- while completely silent about his fall opponent using Bill Clinton to raise money. The same Bill Clinton whose second term wound up in an impeachment mess -- in part because of a serious allegation of rape by Juanita Broaddrick. Ditto this, for that matter, with the hapless Mr. Akin. Bill Clinton was in Missouri quite publicly for Claire McCaskill -- and not a peep from the media.
For that matter, the Tea Party support Mr. Rove was talking about the other night on Sean Hannity’s show -- exactly the right television place for this conversation, by the way -- was post-primary. While Rove gave $1,000 bucks to Rubio in the primary -- that was his own money. As he admits, this was not money raised in quantity from others. Certainly not American Crossroads. Was this because Rove had a sudden daring streak to challenge the Establishment? Or was it because, as news reports from 2006 had it -- like this one from the Tampa Bay Times on November 6, 2006 headlined “Crist in Karl Rove’s Doghouse” -- that the Bush White House was furious with Charlie Crist for distancing himself from President Bush and the looming 2006 GOP disaster in which Rove was playing such a prominent role? And that the Bush White House -- perhaps Rove himself? -- was furious at Crist. So furious that come the Rubio challenge, Rove was doing nothing more complicated than sticking it to good ole Charlie? Not, mind you, that Charlie Crist didn't deserve it. But there is a difference between spite and principle.
In fact, the decided impression abroad in Tea Party land is that Mr. Rove is anything but a fan.
Again. Candidates, campaigns, consultants -- and presidents -- are imperfect.
The real problem here is that all of this business is really about a dwindling yet still powerful Republican moderate Establishment. Or, as Angelo Codevilla put it in his famous book -- those who consider themselves The Ruling Class.
Note that Mr. Codevilla is a signer of the letter quoted above.
Mr. Rove is seen, for better or worse, as the modern embodiment of all this. Not to mention these days that he raised a boatload of cash and blew it last year. Mr. Collegio’s expressed sentiments -- about Brent Bozell and all the rest -- are seen instantly as a careless public version of a sentiment that is expressed behind closed doors. Perhaps by Mr. Rove -- perhaps not. But certainly by all manner of people who grit their teeth at, say, the pro-lifers in the GOP or the tax-cutters or who knows what.
The people in charge of picking good candidates -- most particularly in a Republican Party that counts as principle the importance of states and local governments as opposed to the federal government -- should be those in the 50 different states. Whatever flaws Mr. Rove or anybody else sees in the judgment of the Republicans of Indiana or Delaware or Missouri or anywhere else -- it is the decision of the people in those states that must be the final call in a primary.
Mr. Rove and his donors have effectively burned themselves here.
But in the end, this can’t be about Karl Rove. That would be as big a mistake as Rove has made.
If there is a lesson learned from all this it should be -- must be -- about the vital nature of issues like the Constitution and Big Government to the conservative base. And yes, abortion and guns, the pro-life view, pro-gun view that is so unpopular with elites.
Also getting serious attention from conservatives is this pointed quote from Craig Shirley. The Reagan biographer, who also signed this letter, has the attention of a lot of conservatives for saying:
"Eric Hoffer once said all great causes evolved into businesses and eventually descend into a racket. The Republican Party appears to many to be a racket with no organizing philosophy except bashing Obama for the cynical purposes of raising money."
Mr. Rove has said repeatedly he does not earn a dime from American Crossroads, and I believe him. But the point here goes to the larger issue of the Washington political fundraising culture -- and this technical but critically important issue certainly has conservative attention.
It is safe to say conservatives are deeply committed to all these issues -- and more. They are determined to choose their own candidates. When they lose -- they will take their lumps. And when they win -- with candidates like Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz, and Ron Johnson -- they expect to see these men turning Washington, D.C. inside out and upside down. Taking on the liberal leviathan with all the enthusiasm of Brent Bozell’s uncle Bill Buckley and his great friend Ronald Reagan.
It’s hard work.
After a lifetime of this hard work, Brent Bozell deserves infinitely more than the casual dismissal given him by Mr. Collegio. The signatures on that letter are a sign of just how well thought of Mr. Bozell is with conservatives. Most assuredly I count myself as one of those friends and admirers of this man's indefatigable energy and intellectual contributions to the cause made famous by so many distinguished members of his own family.
This is an unexpectedly useful moment. A time to get all of this out on the table. To sort it out. Before 2014 much less 2016 is upon us.
But one thing is certain.
It is very safe to say the leaders of today’s conservative movement, Brent Bozell included, will be damned if they are going to hand over the rich and deep heritage of that movement to Mr. Rove’s wildly misnamed “Conservative Victory Project.”
Or anybody else with similar inclinations.
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