Nate Silver: Karl Rove’s War On Tea Party Extremists ‘Could Backfire’


Nate Silver, the oft-attacked numbers guru that accurately predicted both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections with eerie accuracy, has some bad news for Karl Rove.

I really hope Rove completely ignores him.

Silver took a look at Rove’s new Conservative Victory Project, a super PAC designed to help “electable” Republican candidates win primaries. This is the latest volley in the expanding GOP civil war that has pitted establishment Republicans against the astroturf Tea Party that the establishment completely lost control of. What Rove and others had first viewed as a convenient way to re-brand the failed conservative movement turned out to be a freak show filled with very exciting candidates. “Exciting” in this context meaning “able to drive the base in paroxysms of almost indecent ecstasy.”  But when introduced to the general public, these Tea Party candidates went from “exciting” to “completely unelectable” unless it was in a deep red district or state. The rest of the country, Democrats, Independents and even moderate Republicans recoiled in horror at what came out of these people’s mouths. In other words, the Tea Party wears the ugliness at the core of conservatism on its sleeve and makes no effort to hide it. In fact, the Tea party seems unusually proud of its nativism  misogyny, racism and homophobia.

Karl Rove, like the rest of the establishment GOP, knows that this is a very bad idea. For decades, Republicans have worked to master double speak and dog whistles. You don’t say, “ni**er.” You say “welfare queen,” “food stamp president” or “inner city.” You don’t call Social Security a “ponzi scheme.” You talk about “choice,” “privatization” or “making Social Security solvent.” Under no circumstances are you to attack birth control and the right to for women to have sex without consequences directly. You attack abortion instead and oppose all forms of sexual education.

The Tea Party is manifestly incapable of doing this and Karl Rove knows it. Rove is not interested in changing the core beliefs of the right, all he wants to do is find candidates that are smart enough to keep their mouth shut until AFTER they’re in office. At first blush, it’s not a bad strategy and it worked for decades.

Nate Silver suggests otherwise, though.

According to Silver, throwing money at the problem is not going to help (emphasis mine):

An analysis of Republican Senate primaries in 2010 and 2012 suggests that money is usually the least pressing problem for the incumbents and other establishment-backed candidates whom Mr. Rove’s group might be inclined to support. Instead, some insurgent candidates won their races despite having been at more than a 10-to-1 fund-raising disadvantage heading into the primary.

The problem is that the primaries have been taken over by far right lunatics. Starting long before Obama’s first election, extremists have been quietly building a ground game to control the primaries of the GOP. In this fashion, a very small group of people can control the entire party with a minimal amount of effort and money. Part of this effort has been carried out by Christian fundamentalists backing candidates like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum who will happily shove their Talibanesque version of Christianity down our throats. Other insurgents include the Koch brothers backed “grassroots” Libertarian movement that was created a decade ago and gave birth to the current Tea Party. In reality, it’s just a repackaged version of the John Birch Society that their father helped found over half a century ago. These two groups  have turned the GOP into a schizophrenic stew of conspiracy nuts and religious ignorance that only appeals to the very angry and very misinformed.

And speaking of angry and misinformed, Silver continues:

The voters who do turn out in Republican Senate primaries are likely to be highly informed consumers of conservative-friendly news media outlets such as talk radio, prime-time shows on Fox News and conservative magazines and blogs. They may also weigh the endorsements of prominent conservative politicians and organizations. An insurgent candidate who is presented in a favorable light in these outlets may have plenty of ability to reach her target voters, even if she is spending little or nothing on paid advertisements and outreach efforts.

Mr. Rove’s efforts could backfire, therefore, if they result in the insurgent candidate receiving more sympathetic treatment through these channels; the amount of so-called “earned media” that the insurgent receives could outweigh the extra advertisements that the establishment candidate is able to afford.

Nate Silver is a very smart man so I can only assume that when he says “highly informed” he means” well versed in the total bullshit the right wing media peddles as “information.” He’s constrained by the fact that his methodology is free of politics (so to speak) and should not be presented as partisan. I don’t have that problem. But the point remains that primary voters tend to be far more politically active and aware even if they are profoundly deluded by watching Fox and listening to AM Hate radio. If they feel that “the establishment” in the form of Karl Rove is attacking their “champion of justice/Jesus/the Constitution/white power,” they will come crawling out of the woodwork to defend them.

It’s hard to fight fanaticism.

I can’t stress enough how much a messy GOP civil war is good for America. The Republican’s greatest strength have always been their ability to march in lockstep to push a particular lie (think “trickle down”) or talking point (think “we love Social Security”) while concealing their true agenda (“I’ve got mine, screw you!”). As long as the Tea Party keeps pushing the most extreme candidates on to the public stage, hiding the cruelty and greed at the heart of conservative ideology becomes impossible.

Fortunately, after the humiliation Karl Rove suffered on election night and the accolades Nate Silver got in direct comparison, it’s unlikely Rove will listen to a word Silver has to say.


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