Pixel Tracker

Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 1:05 am | Fair 49º


Susan Estrich: Karl Rove’s New Adventure Heralds New Era of Republican Infighting

Back in 1985, after being trounced in the general election, Washington strategist Al From and a group of Democratic elected officials founded the Democratic Leadership Council. Its stated purpose was to move the Democratic Party to the middle — particularly to deal with the influence of the ideologues and caucuses (and there were many of them) who dominated the presidential nominating process. Co-founders included then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia and Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, among others.

It was not popular with everyone, including yours truly. We called it the “White Boys Caucus.” We laughed when the “successful” effort to encourage more Southern states to move their primaries earlier in the calendar to “Super Tuesday” resulted (according to the law of unintended consequences) in a victory for Jesse Jackson, the most liberal candidate in the race.

Black voters dominated the primaries, much as Tea Party voters often do on the other side.

But three losses in a row at the presidential level convinced even the likes of me that we needed to put electability ahead of ideological purity, a conclusion that was easier to reach since the DLC candidate in 1992 was our friend, Clinton. By 2011, the DLC had dissolved, donating its papers to the Clinton Library.

The DLC could be seen as something of a model for the controversial group that former White House chief of staff Karl Rove has put together with the support of big-money Republicans. The stated goal of the Conservative Victory Project is to regain control of the Senate and build a winning Republican Party, notably by pumping money into primary races to assure that the most electable candidate is the one who is nominated. Critics complain that it was created to counter the Tea Party, and they are even unhappier — and more vocal — about that than we were with the DLC.

With reason.

Unlike the DLC effort, which was led by elected officials themselves, the Victory Project is seen as solely a Washington money group. Unlike the DLC, which from the beginning had a policy arm and by the end was led by Bruce Reed, Clinton’s top policy guy, the Victory Project is seen as solely poll-driven. Most important, unlike the Tea Party, liberals in the Democratic Party, many of us Washington insiders who did not hold elective office, had already come to the conclusion that winning was more important than ideological purity. And the DLC, as far as I can remember, never pumped money into contested primaries. That wasn’t the point.

Conservative talk radio, cable hosts, activists and party leaders are in full attack mode. Chris Chocola, president of the more conservative Club for Growth, which has taken an active role in Republican primaries, has pointed reporters to the losses in Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wisconsin to make the point that candidates selected by D.C. insiders often don’t appeal to conservative activists, those “pesky voters” who get to decide on the nomination. David Bossie, president of the conservative Citizens United, went so far as to declare, “The civil war has begun.”

No one doubts that money matters in primaries. But as long as the primary electorate is dominated by those most committed to voting, who tend to be the ideologues and activists, Rove and his supporters may face an uphill battle. That is why moderate Republicans in California, in an effort to shift the balance, pushed so hard against the establishment of both parties to “open” primaries to all voters.

I will never forget sitting in the nearly empty suite of Los Angeles Mayor Dick Riordan, clearly the Republican most likely to defeat Gov. Gray Davis, as we calculated just how few voters had made the difference in the Republican primary, picking probably the only candidate who couldn’t defeat Davis. Two years later, Davis was recalled. In most people’s view, the moderate Arnold Schwarzenegger won only because it was an open recall election in which everyone — Republicans, Democrats and undeclared voters — could participate.

Rove has his work cut out for him. But if anyone has proved himself capable of playing this game, it’s him. Meanwhile, my friends on the Democratic side, more united than in the bad old days, can’t help but witness the infighting with a sigh of relief. Been there, done that.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >