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.

Collegio was pretty clear that American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS did not see themselves as the ones declaring intra-party war. "Look," he said, "American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS ... spent more than $30 million over the past two years supporting Tea Party candidates .... We need better candidates across the board."

"We want to elect the most conservative candidates possible," he said, adding later, "The headline on the Breitbart website that we're declaring war -- that's absolutely false."

Collegio contrasted Rove's support for Marco Rubio with his concerns about Christine O'Donnell and Todd Akin as the sorts of distinctions the group would make.

"I don't know why that headline came up," Collegio said. "This is not a war on the Tea Party. Brent Bozell is a hater. He has a long personal history of hating Karl Rove, too -- he has like weird personal axes to grind."

Collegio declined to comment for this story.

The full letter is below.

February 6, 2013

Mr. Steven Law

President & Chief Executive Officer

American Crossroads
P.O. Box 34413
Washington, DC 20043

Dear Mr. Law,

We, the free men and women of this great nation, affirm everyone's natural right to speak their mind, but we cannot and will not abide the unjust, personal broadside your aide Jonathan Collegio leveled against a man whose family has dedicated itself to advancing the cause of liberty for over half a century.

This morning Mr. Collegio attacked L. Brent Bozell, III and labeled him as a "hater" twice in an interview.  His attack was not grounded in reason or principle; its justification was nothing more than disagreement with your newly formed organization.

Mr. Bozell is what we call in our movement a "legacy." He has devoted his life to the cause of American conservatism as did his father, Brent Bozell II, who wrote "Conscience of a Conservative" for Barry Goldwater.

Maybe you've heard of Brent's uncle, Bill Buckley, whose words you misquote and twist as the basis for your organization enough to falsely suggest you know something about him.

You may have heard of his other uncle, Jim Buckley, a former U.S. Senator, or Brent's mother, Patricia Buckley Bozell--both important figures and writers in our conservative movement.

Ronald Reagan often saluted the contributions of the Bozell and Buckley families to the cause of American conservatism.

Mr. Collegio calling Mr. Bozell a "hater" publicly on WMAL radio this morning reflects the language of the establishment Republicans. It is the divisive language of the Left.

Rather than engaging in an intellectual debate, you, Mr. Collegio, Mr. Rove, and others in the consultant class attack good conservatives and Tea Party leaders and members.

On behalf of the conservative movement, we are demanding you terminate Mr. Collegio.  An apology is not acceptable.

American Crossroads and the so-called Conservative Victory Project have already been severely marginalized.  The sheer audacity of political consultants maligning a beloved and critically important player in American history is simply a bridge too far.

You obviously mean to have a war with conservatives and the Tea Party.

Let it start here.


Craig Shirley                                                                       Diana Banister
Reagan Biographer                                                            Director
                                                              Citizens for the Republic

Mark Levin                                                                          Jenny Beth Martin
Author                                                                                  Co-Founder and National   Coordinator Tea Party Patriots

Morton Blackwell                                                             Mathew D. Staver
Chairman                                                                         Founder and Chairman
The Weyrich Lunch                                                          Liberty Counsel

Tony Perkins                                                                      Austin Ruse
President                                                                            President
Family Research Council                                                   Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute
Richard Viguerie                                                               Manuel Miranda
Chairman                                                                           Third Branch Conference                                                    

Phyllis Schlafly


Eagle Forum

Robert Fischer                                                                   Mark Fitzgibbons
President                                                                            President of Corporate Affairs
Fischer Furniture, Inc.                                                       American Target Advertising

David N. Bossie                                                                 Troy Newman
President                                                                            Pro-Life Nation

Citizens United

Richard F. Norman                                                           Tricia Erickson
Founder and President                                                    President
The Richard Norman Company                                       Crisis Management, Inc.

Ginni Thomas                                                                    Angelo M. Codevilla                                       
Liberty Consulting                                                            Professor emeritus
                                                          Claremont Institute

William Wilson                                                                   Rick Scarborough
Americans for Limited Government                                   Vision America

Peter J. Thomas                                                                Colin Hanna
Chairman                                                                           Let Freedom Ring

The Conservative Caucus Inc.

Andrea Lafferty                                                                Frank Gaffney
President                                                                         President

Traditional Values Coalition

                        Center for Security Policy