(CBS NEWS) -- For anyone who sees Mitt Romney's loss in the November presidential
election as a harbinger of GOP decline, conservatives have a message -
make that two, tellingly conflicting, messages.
embodied by the Conservative Victory Project (CVP) - a group backed by
Karl Rove's "super PAC" seeking to curb influence from far-right
organizations - and spelled out Tuesday by House Majority Leader Eric
Cantor, R-Va.: Our olive branch is ripe, Democrats, and with the right
legislation, we're willing to compromise.
The other, perhaps best summarized in paperwork filed today
by ousted Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., to create a "super PAC" countering
Rove's: The tea party that in 2010 ushered into Washington a wave of
staunch conservative ideologues isn't going away.
group's formation was just the most explicit among intensifying calls to
inject discipline into a Congress that has seen unprecedented gridlock,
particularly on critical economic issues.
Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La. - a favorite on 2016 speculation lists - at a GOP retreat last month said,
"We've got to stop being the stupid party," and called on his fellow
Republicans to start talking "like adults." Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich,
R-Ga. and Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., appearing subsequently on CBS
News programs, rushed to condone the remarks. "I think we clearly have
to change," Gingrich said.
Meanwhile, Cantor's speech at the American Enterprise Institute on
Tuesday brought substance to the argument, not to mention a glimpse into
what the tone of the newly minted 113th Congress might be. Reviewed
largely as a recasting of the Republican Party's image, Cantor's remarks
offered a striking departure from the partisan battles that in the past
few years have brought the government more than once to the brink of
crisis. Rather than emphasizing spending cuts, he spoke of the economy
from an American family standpoint; most drastically, he also endorsed
immigration principles of the Dream Act.
"There are some
who would rather avoid fixing the problem in order to save this as a
political issue," Cantor said of immigration reform proposals currently
making their way through congressional committees. "I reject this notion
and call on the president to help lead us towards a bipartisan solution
rather than encourage the common political divisions of the past."
While announcing gun trafficking legislation today, Rep.
Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said he was "very encouraged" by the House
majority leader's speech. "I think he clearly opened the door for the
House to move on meaningful legislation," he said. "Maybe, just maybe,
this is the beginning of opening doors."
But despite some who believe the tea party peaked with its influx of
dogma-driven freshmen in 2010, the grassroots activist group is sounding
off about this new push toward the center. Statements from the various
factions of the movement have echoed the sentiment expressed
on Nov. 7 by Tea Party Patriots coordinator Jenny Beth Martin, blaming
President Obama's reelection on the GOP's nomination of Romney - "a weak
moderate candidate, hand-picked by the Beltway elites and country-club
establishment wing of the Republican Party."
Party Express chairwoman Amy Kremer, who despite early criticism
ultimately supported Romney, and who, during the
near-government-shutdown ordeal of 2011, advocated "realistic" pragmatism
in budget negotiations, in a statement Monday pointed to "the biggest
Republican victories in modern American politics" as indicative that CVP
won't be successful.
"Reagan's victories in the 1980s,
Newt Gingrich and the Republican revolution of 1994, and the Tea Party's
historic wins in 2010 were all made possible because the Republican
Party, and its candidates, stood strongly and proudly for pro-growth
fiscal conservative policies," Kremer said. "The newly launched
Conservative Victory Project wants to push the tea party out and replace
them with the failed strategies of 2008 and 2012. This Super PAC is
choosing power of principle, but will end up alienating conservatives
and electoral losses.
"If the establishment's large
donors want to see a complete electoral catastrophe, then all they need
to do is push tea party conservatives into supporting alternative third
candidates," she continued.
FreedomWorks, another powerhouse tea party fundraising group that suffered from its own infighting
in December, also put out a statement, touting the "leadership" of the
movement's heroes like Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Pat
Toomey, R-Pa., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and warned, "the Empire is striking
"A clear pattern has emerged, beginning with the GOP
leadership's efforts to silence delegates on the floor of the RNC,
continuing with House Leadership's purge of fiscally conservative
congressmen from their committee positions for voting out of line with
the GOP establishment," spokeswoman Jacqueline Bodnar wrote. "Now, an
Orwellian-named 'Conservative Victory Project' is created with the sole
operating mission of blocking the efforts of fiscally conservative
activists across the country.
"All events point to a
fundamental clash between the old guard Republican establishment,
dictating outdated ideas from the top-down, versus a tech-savvy younger
generation of activists driving their agenda from the bottom-up," the
CVP spokesman Jonathan Collegio said
in an email to CBSNews.com that his group's goal "isn't to divide the
party," but to "institutionalize the William F Buckley rule by
supporting the most conservative candidate in the primary who can win in
"...Our party has lost a number of races in recent years, both by
so-called 'establishment' candidates and tea party candidates, not
because of bad messages but bad messengers: undisciplined candidates
with little local support and who lacked the fundraising prowess
necessary to win campaigns," Collegio continued. "To win more races, we
need better candidates, and that's what this group will support."
Collegio said CVP has not yet made a list of specific races they will target because "it's too early," but some reports suggest Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, who says he is "50-50"
on whether to make a bid for retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin's
seat, may be the group's most obvious starting point. King has been
known to rally with firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who
founded the House Tea Party Caucus and almost lost her seat in November after an unsuccessful run for the White House. Bachmann's office declined to comment for this article.
Though early polls
show King with solid footing in the Hawkeye State, Steven Law,
president of Rove's "super PAC" American Crossroads, told the New York
Times the CVP is "concerned about Steve King's Todd Akin problem,"
referring to King's defense of the former Missouri congressman and
Senate candidate's incendiary remarks about "legitimate rape." King, too,
has been known to offer controversial statements, including his
critique of Mr. Obama's middle name "Hussein" as a hindering factor in
winning the "War on Terror."
Another target may be tea
party Rep. Paul Brown, R-Ga., who is expected to announce today his
intention to seek the seat of retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. Broun
has bagged his share of controversy as well, having had his say in the
"birther" movement questioning the president's citizenship, and opining
that "all that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and
Big Bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell."