Movement Conservatives and Tea Partiers Rise Up Against Rove

An impressive array of movement leaders rallies to defend Brent Bozell after Crossroads GPS spokesman Jonathan Collegio called him a "hater."

A spokesman for Karl Rove's American Crossroads got a very public thumping Wednesday when some of the most prominent Tea Party leaders and movement conservative activists in the country signed onto a letter calling for him to be fired. Jonathan Collegio's offense: He dipped into hip-hop slag and called movement-conservative writer L. Brent Bozell III a "hater" during a talk-radio interview that morning. 

"An apology is not acceptable," the signatories wrote, and would in no way make up for the "unjust, personal broadside" against the president of the 25-year-old Media Research Council. Signatories included Richard Viguerie, Morton Blackwell, Phyllis Schlafly, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, and Ginni Thomas, a conservative consultant who is also the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. 

Bozell "is not a hater. He's a patriot and someone who loves this country," said Jenny Beth Martin, also a signatory and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.

Collegio apologized, saying: "Bozell called us 'fake conservatives' -- which is language that perniciously and unfairly judges the motives of others, and fails to acknowledge that there might be honest differences on strategy within the conservative movement... I regret contributing to the vitriol, and I apologize to Mr. Bozell if it offended him. Believe it or not, I'm a big fan of both him and MRC."

It's just the latest outbreak in an ongoing series of skirmishes over the future of a Republican Party. The GOP is caught between a grassroots that's willing to roll the dice and risk some high-profile electoral losses in order to win other races with out-of-the-box candidates, and an establishment up in arms over the loss of what should have been safe Republican seats -- including some held by incumbents -- thanks to the new grassroots powers. Against that backdrop, a New York Times story about a Rove-backed super PAC's plans for a new project to help incumbents fend off primary challenges raised major hackles among movement conservatives, who felt it was tantamount to declaring war on some of their most cherished members while diminishing their role in the last election cycle that saw substantial GOP gains, 2010. 

"The biggest donors in the Republican Party are financing a new group to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts who Republican leaders worry could complicate the party's efforts to win control of the Senate," the Times reported on Tuesday. The effort is being led by Steven J. Law, president of Rove's American Crossroads group. That evening Rove appeared on Hannity to try to undo some of the damage from the Times piece.

But that didn't stop Bozell, who wrote critically of Rove's decision to give the New York Times, which Bozell considers a biased bastion of liberalism, the story in the first place:

If I were launching a new conservative venture, the last venue I'd choose for the announcement would be the New York Times. Karl Rove has gone to the Times to announce that he has created a new "conservative" entity "to recruit seasoned candidates and protect Senate incumbents from challenges by far-right conservatives and Tea Party enthusiasts."...

In the end, this is not a fight between Democrats and Republicans. This is between the Reaganites and the same old moderate Republicans who insisted Ronald Reagan was far too extreme to be elected in 1976 and then in 1980, when Rove worked for George H. W. Bush. They thought the Doles and McCains were always the smart money against the Democrats. It's a fight between Republicans who want to not only run as conservatives, but govern as conservatives, versus the Bush-Boehner-McConnell never-mind approach.

Rove's groups already had a "horrific" reception among conservatives, according to the American Spectator's Jeffrey Lord, on account of their dismal track record in 2012 and Rove's frank public criticism of conservative and Tea Party candidates he believed had gone off the electability rails dating to 2010.

Collegio's comments came in response to questioning during an interview on a Washington talk-radio show, WMAL's Mornings on the Mall with Brian Wilson & Larry O'Connor.


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Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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