To the delight of Democrats, the battle over control of the future of the GOP is intensifying, with the Tea Party, establishment and social conservative factions beginning to openly criticize each other for election setbacks.
As Republicans seek to understand and explain their defeats in the 2012 election, the various factions are already gearing up to influence which candidates will be selected to represent the party in 2014 and beyond.
In 2010 and 2012, American Crossroads/Crossroads GPS, headed by Karl Rove, the mastermind behind George W. Bush's election wins, did not get involved in Republican primaries. Rather, it chose to support whichever candidates emerged victorious in those primaries.
Some of those candidates, though, emerged from the nomination contests too extremist to win the general election. Rove does not want to see that happen again. He is setting up a new organization, Conservative Victory Fund, that will seek to help "establishment Republicans," for lack of a better term, win their primary contests.
Tea Party groups are taking offense at the news. They warn that establishment Republicans would do worse because they would not have the same grassroots support that Tea Party candidates would have.
"If the establishment's large donors want to see a complete electoral catastrophe, then all they need to do is push Tea Party conservatives into supporting alternative third candidates. In the general elections, responsible Tea Party leaders have supported the GOP's establishment candidates consistently after primaries, even though moderates have been nearly nonexistent in being loyal to conservative primary victors," Tea Party Express complained in a Monday press release.
The Tea Party has data to back up its complaint. In last year's election, establishment Republicans were not very successful. Establishment-type Republican Senate candidates lost in Florida (Connie Mack), Massachusetts (Scott Brown), Montana (Denny Rehberg), North Dakota (Rick Berg), Virginia (George Allen) and Wisconsin (Tommy Thompson). Establishment Republicans were also successful in selecting the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, but he also lost in the general election.
The poster child for a weak candidate losing a winnable race has been Todd Akin in the Missouri Senate race. Claire McCaskill was widely viewed as the weakest Democratic incumbent. Akin was ahead in the polls until he made some ill-informed remarks about rape victims. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock in Indiana also lost his race after similar comments.
Those incidents, and others like them, has prompted Concerned Women for America, a social conservative advocacy group, to require any candidate that receive its support to attend a training session. Those sessions will inform the candidates about women's issues and teach them how to better articulate their positions on those issues.
While many in the press continue to label Akin the "Tea Party candidate," Akin was never supported by Tea Party in the primary. Akin was supported by social conservative groups and narrowly won a three- way race against an establishment Republican and a Tea Party Republican.
Rove's group has already announced their first target: Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), if he chooses to run for the U.S. Senate in 2014.
On Wednesday on Washington Watch, a daily radio show hosted by Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, King complained that he did not understand why Rove would target him for defeat. He has always had good relations with all factions of the Republican Party in his state, including establishment Republicans, he said.
Meanwhile, the National Republican Senatorial Committee appears to be trying to improve relations between establishment Republicans and grassroots groups. Newly elected Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) has been appointed vice chairman of grassroots outreach, a position that was created specifically for him.
Cruz won the Republican primary against an establishment candidate with the support of Tea Party groups. Cruz also has the strong support of the social conservative wing of the Party.
"We want to work with states and party organizations, the grass roots, members of Congress, people who have an interest in who the Republican nominee is for Senate to see if we can't find consensus on candidates that can be nominated and that can win. We certainly want Sen. Cruz's involvement in that process," NRSC Chairman Jerry Moran of Kansas told Roll Call.