Slick-looking Steven J. Law, Establishment Republican Menace, wore a consistent smile Thursday afternoon as he tried to explain why everyone at the Conservative Political Action Conference should not be ticked off at him.
Law, co-founder of the uber-Super PAC American Crossroads, punched a conservative hornets’ nest recently when he told the New York Times about a new effort to intervene in 2014 Republican primaries on behalf of candidates Crossroads believes could do better in general elections.
Folks such as the Tea Party Patriots, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Club for Growth – who put conservative purity first – immediately denounced the idea of Law and Karl Rove, George W. Bush’s longtime strategist, picking nominees.
Law said Thursday that Crossroads has reached out to some of the aggrieved groups to smooth over any differences, telling them they want to share information about candidates and reach consensus where they can. He emphasized that Crossroads’ monetary sledgehammer – $175 million spent in the 2012 cycle, tops among outside groups, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics – is necessary because Republicans have blown too many Senate races.
“We can all agree candidate quality was a problem for us in 2012,” Law said.
Rove is likely to deliver a similar message in May at the Georgia GOP convention in Athens. The debate matters a great deal to Georgians as the race to succeed U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss unfolds.
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, an Athens Republican with a tendency toward hyperbolic rhetoric, could be the kind of candidate who gives Crossroads chills. He was at CPAC as well on Thursday, making his way down a series of radio booths to talk up his Senate bid. Many Georgia Democrats believe they have a splendid chance to steal a Senate seat if Broun is the GOP nominee, and he has been compared to red-state Senate flops Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
Meanwhile last week, U.S. Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta gave an interview to the AJC’s Jim Galloway in which he apologized for defending Akin’s stance on “legitimate rape.” The mea culpa set the stage for Gingrey’s own entry into the GOP race.
Asked about Georgia after his CPAC panel discussion, Law said it’s far too early to make a determination: “You’ve got to let the cake bake a little bit before you decide how you want to slice it up.”
In his talk he said Crossroads would support candidates who prove they can raise money and run a competent campaign on their own, appealing to a broad portion of the electorate. Law stressed that the preferred candidate must have strong conservative principles, too.
The panel was held in a conference room with about 50 people, not far from the main hall where thousands roared for U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul earlier in the day. Neither was the “establishment” choice when he first decided to run, but now both are among Republicans’ brightest stars.
One audience questioner told Law he was strongly in favor of “getting rid of those kooks” like Akin but fearful that Crossroads could fight people like Paul.
The line between hero and kook in retrospect is easy; it’s who won in November. Discerning them in a primary is a difficult - and divisive — business.