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Forget the Spending Gap; It's the Enthusiasm Gap that Matters

Karl Rove is worried! There is a growing rift between establishment Washington Republicans and grassroots principled conservatives. What is driving this rift? Money? Candidates? The answer is control.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 20: U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his wife Elaine Chao arrive for a victory celebration following the early results of the state Republican primary May 20, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin in today's primary and will likely face a close race in the fall against Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes.

Karl Rove is worried.

In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he laments the fact that Democrats have outspent Republicans by more than $20 million in this year’s Senate elections.

“[T]he Democrats' summer ad blitz,” Rove writes, “in which they spent $58 million to the GOP's $54.4 million, dented some Republican candidates but failed to convince people to vote for Democrats, especially beleaguered incumbents. They're stuck where they were at the summer's start, and whatever damage Republican campaigns suffered can be repaired, given adequate money.”

It’s interesting that Rove should be complaining about a lack of spending against Democrats when, the political establishment he supports have frittered away millions in order to destroy challenges from principled, liberty-focused Republicans.

Politico reports that, during the course of the 2014 primary season, lobbyist-backed groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Karl Rove’s own American Crossroads spent $23 million to defeat other Republicans - that’s $23 million dollars that could have closed Rove’s lamented spending gap in the general election.

In individual races, we gain some insight into Rove’s “beleaguered incumbents.” The New York Times reports that Mitch McConnell spent $11 million to beat back Matt Bevin in Kentucky, even though a Rasmussen poll released at the end of January had Bevin performing better against the Democrat by 4 points.

LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 20: U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his wife Elaine Chao arrive for a victory celebration following the early results of the state Republican primary May 20, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin in today's primary and will likely face a close race in the fall against Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes. LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 20: U.S. Senate Republican Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his wife Elaine Chao arrive for a victory celebration following the early results of the state Republican primary May 20, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. McConnell defeated Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin in today's primary and will likely face a close race in the fall against Democratic candidate, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes.

In North Carolina, Thom Tillis, according to Politico, spent $2 million, aided by more than $10 million from the Chamber and Crossroads, to defeat the more conservative Greg Brannon, when Public Policy Polling gave Brannon a better chance against Kay Hagan by a margin of 4 percentage points. Both Tillis and McConnell are now in danger of losing to Democrats.

In Mississippi, a safe Republican state, outside groups dumped $5 million on top of Thad Cochran’s own $4 million campaign to defeat Chris McDaniel - a grassroots candidate campaigning against Cochran’s ineffective 41-year incumbency. There was never any danger of Republicans losing Mississippi, so why did Rove’s buddies feel the need to spend $5 million that could have helped assure Republican victories in other, more tightly contested states?

Mitch McConnell’s grim pronouncement that they would “crush [liberty candidates] everywhere” only succeeded in crushing grassroots enthusiasm for a class of K St. Republicans who care more about propping up a four-decade incumbent than about taking the Senate as a whole.

All of this talk about supporting “electable” candidates over principled ones has just been a mask for what Rove and his allies really fear - a political party that answers to the people rather than to special interests and the well-monied lobbyist class. They fear a movement that they cannot control. They fear an actually representative government.

If K St. Republican groups were really as worried about Democratic control of the Senate as they claims, they would not have wasted millions in primary battles, especially those in already safe seats. If the U.S. Chamber of Commerce really believed its own “pro-business” messaging, it would not have already endorsed four Democrats this year, and 52 since 2008. Remember, this is the same Democratic Party that gave us the Affordable Care Act, the most obviously anti-business legislation of the last six years.

The truth is, the rift between liberty movement Republicans and lobbyist-backed Republicans is not about electability and beating Democrats, it’s about control. We think that the people, the grassroots activists who give up their weekends to go door to door putting up yard signs and getting out the vote, should be represented by their government. They think politics should be controlled by a handful of elites. And if those elites can then extract favors and kickbacks for their efforts, so much the better.

Republicans could have easily closed the spending gap by staying focused on defeating Democrats rather than directing their efforts against candidates supported by the grassroots, but a lack of control over the process is more terrifying to them than a Democrat controlled Senate ever could be. After all, political favors can be bought just as easily from a Democrat as from a Thad Cochran or a Mitch McConnell. But a candidate with principles - real ones, consistent with the vision of liberty that made this country great - is nobody’s puppet.

Adam Brandon is the executive vice president of FreedomWorks, a non-profit organization that mobilizes grassroots activists nationwide. Follow him on Twitter @adam_brandon.

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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