Last Wednesday (Sept. 17), former George W. Bush political guru and current Republican Super PAC king Karl Rove took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to exhort that paper’s readers to make it rain to the benefit of Republican senatorial candidates with just six weeks left before Election Day.
“…[R]educing the Democratic cash advantage will tip the needle in the GOP’s direction,” Rove said. “That will only happen if Republicans open their wallets to candidates whom they may have never met, and, if they live in a battleground state, they clear their calendars to volunteer to identify and get out the vote. If they don’t, they should prepare for two more years of Majority Leader Harry Reid.”
Rove says the Republican “wave” everyone expects this fall isn’t materializing as yet because Democrats are outraising and outspending Republicans across the board. As evidence, he cites that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had outraised the National Republican Senatorial Committee by $1.6 million in August and, as of August 31, was sitting on a $5 million larger war chest. Rove also noted a study by American Crossroads which concluded that so far Democrat political entities had run or placed some $109 million in campaign TV ads, while their Republican counterparts had only run or placed $85 million.
Rove asserts, “The midterm environment is terrible for Democrats,” and reminds the reader of all the conditions we already know about this cycle.
In his assessment of the atmosphere surrounding the midterms, if not much else, Rove is correct. This is an environment in which there ought to be an electoral decimation of Barack Obama’s political fellows, and with a Senate that is embarrassingly dysfunctional — there are more than 300 bills passed by the House of Representatives sitting on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s desk awaiting a vote — an expectation of a Republican wave is anything but wishful thinking. Needing to gain six Senate seats to retake the majority and consign Reid to irrelevance, it’s virtually assured the GOP will pick up half that number from Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia. There are eight other seats — from Louisiana, Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire and Michigan — that Republicans in a real wave election ought to be able to steal away from Reid and Obama.
And yet, as of now, such a wave is elusive. Even in states like Arkansas, Alaska, and Louisiana, where Democrats as a party are clearly on the way out, polls don’t show GOP blowouts. And in races in Kansas, Kentucky, and Georgia, deep red states all, Republican victory is hardly assured.
Rove’s alarm about fundraising might be more self-serving than instructive. The money shortage is but a symptom of a larger disease. The Republican Party, in part thanks to Rove’s actions, lacks credibility and trust with voters and activists — both of which it must have.
After all, how does the GOP sell itself as the party of reform when it’s asking voters to replace Harry Reid with Mitch McConnell? How does it sell itself as responsive to voters when John Boehner inexplicably touts amnesty for illegal immigrants as “good for the economy”? How can it stitch together a broad coalition of voters or present fresh ideas when senatorial fossils Pat Roberts and Thad Cochran can’t even get a majority of Republicans in their states to vote for them?
Moreover, Rove’s hands are not clean in the party establishment’s all-out war against the Tea Party earlier this year. A major effort was made to decry the practices of Tea Party groups using populist messaging as a fundraising tool for selfish profit rather than to move the electoral needle, and that criticism is valid. It’s true that many of the D.C.-based Tea Party outfits are running a racket on conservative activists and donors. But while the argument holds water, Rove and other Beltway GOP gurus like him are the wrong people to point fingers, because that’s precisely what they’ve been doing to their own donors.
In 2012, Rove’s American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS raised some $325 million to purportedly help Mitt Romney and the GOP’s Senate candidates win elections. The results were catastrophic. But the media buyers who work for those organizations banked their 15 percent agency commissions anyway. Fifteen percent of $325 million in TV ads sure is a handsome sum, especially when those ads fail to sell.
Somehow, this failing was the fault of the Tea Party and its “bad candidates.” Todd Akin, for example, was not a Tea Party candidate. He was created as one after he blew his election with stupid comments about rape. Akin was put forth by Rove as a reason to launch Rove’s “Conservative Victory PAC,” which would hand-pick candidates in congressional races to prevent any more lousy “Tea Party” nominees. Apparently, Rick Berg, George Allen, and Tommy Thompson actually won their races in 2012. Who knew? And by the way, as National Review’s Maggie Gallagher notes, the establishment gurus haven’t exactly evolved from 2012 this cycle.
That dishonesty has done more to fracture the Right than anything else. Particularly after the Haley Barbour machine used black Democrats as “ringers” to beat Chris McDaniel in the Mississippi GOP primary, thwarting the preference of a majority of that state’s Republican voters for a fresh senator rather than the doddering, corrupt Cochran and using false charges of racism as a trump card, why should conservative voters go to war simply to replace Democrat hacks with Republican ones?
And then there is immigration. In an excellent Daily Caller piece, Mickey Kaus notes that if Republicans want to win, this election ought to be a referendum on amnesty for illegals. He says immigration is central in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Alaska, and it would be in North Carolina if GOP nominee Thom Tillis didn’t stink on the issue. Voter anger at Obama’s plans to offer amnesty by executive fiat is gold, says Kaus, and nationalizing the election on that issue is a winner. When Kentucky Opportunity, a Rove-affiliated outfit, ran an ad hammering Democrat nominee Allison Lundergan Grimes on amnesty, it gave McConnell some breathing room in the race.
But Rove doesn’t advise talking about amnesty in his WSJ piece, because he’s for it and so are his friends at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who get whatever they want from the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill.
A lack of trust and credibility, both with the voters as a whole and with the conservative base, is what’s dissipating the much-expected Republican wave. And while Rove beats the fundraising drums at the Wall Street Journal, the party is neither working to end the war with the Tea Party nor offering reasons why a GOP majority even matters. As such, control over the Senate majority mostly depends on mistakes by the other side in the next six weeks.