We don’t mean exclusively Rove, of course. We mean the party big-wigs and campaign strategists who are masters at many things, not the least of which is counting heads. Rove and his like-minded colleagues are no shrinking violets when it comes to conservatism. They’ll use a variety of means to accomplish their central goal: Putting into office more candidates with an “R” behind their name.
The trick is to rile up the base of voters that would deliver a winning margin while at the same time keeping the angry side of the grassroots from spilling out into chaos.
If it hadn’t already been established thus far in the 2012 Republican presidential primary race, that tactic is off the leash; the Republican id is loose and running amok in primary states. The results in Alabama and Mississippi that delivered two victories for conservative Rick Santorum and third-place finishes for presumed front-runner Mitt Romney paint a vivid picture.
The trouble started at the end of the Bush administration. The Republicans could have chosen to reform the party, loosening up on some tightly gripped culture-war strategies while highlighting policies that would expand its appeal to a more diverse coalition of Americans. Instead, the party chased after the short-end gains of aligning itself with mad-as-hell conservatives uniting under the Tea Party banner.
It worked in 2010, as Republicans regained control of the U.S. House and gained seats in the U.S. Senate. However, the warning signs were there. Rove angered many of his fellow conservatives when he publicly fretted that Tea Partiers were promoting some candidates too extreme to win a General Election. He was proven correct; in fact, if his advice had been heeded, the U.S. Senate might today be controlled by Republicans. Like we said, Rove is no liberal, but he understands better than most what it takes to get elected.
Now the Republicans find themselves in a bind that runs deeper than a protracted primary contest. The Republican voters who could be counted to vote for social issues and stay quiet when all they received in return was conservative fiscal policies are not willing to play the game any longer. They want candidates who will govern as extreme as they campaign. In Santorum, they have apparently found their man.