Karl Rove has declared war on the Tea Party with his Conservative Victory Project. But Nate Silver just came out to explain — with math! — why Rove's project is mostly doomed. Rove's so-called "No More Akins" campaign has angered other conservative commentators for more or less stabbing the Tea Party in the back. But after a week of internal rancor, Silver's takedown is based on numbers and analysis. No surprise there, except that Silver actually thinks Rove's group could help the Tea Party. Somebody tell Steve King: the king of all geeks thinks the would-be king of all Super PACs is about to watch his house of campaign cards implode, which could actually lead to something of a Tea Party resurgence.
The goal of Rove's Conservative Victory Project, which he actually debuted in The New York Times, is to give money to Republican candidates who are "more electable" — to not let candidates like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who became known as the GOP's rape caucus, earn the party's support. Silver makes the argument that for every dollar an "insurgent candidate" raises (i.e. a Tea Party candidate trying to break through) they can get themselves closer to earning more votes. But an "establishment candidate" doesn't have the same benefit. Every dollar for the challenger helps, whereas there's something of a glass ceiling for the established candidates. There were huge fundraising disparities between Tea Party candidates and the established GOP members in 2010, and they still broke through. Why would Rove's group have a different impact this time? The answer is simple. It won't:
Mr. Rove’s efforts could backfire, therefore, if they result in the insurgent candidate receiving more sympathetic treatment through these channels; the amount of so-called “earned media” that the insurgent receives could outweigh the extra advertisements that the establishment candidate is able to afford.
Silver goes on to argue that big, single donations from something like a Super PAC actually do less for a candidate than smaller amounts generated by grassroots fundraising, which gives Tea Party candidates a distinct advantage. And candidates like Rep. Steve King in Iowa are already using the threat of Rove's 'No More Akins' group to help them gain a little bit more money. This is not what Rove wants. Per Silver:
Suppose, for example, that the establishment candidate has raised $3 million and the insurgent candidate $500,000, a six-to-one advantage for the establishment candidate. Mr. Rove’s group intervenes and contributes $1 million to the establishment candidate, bringing him to $4 million total. In response, the insurgent candidate raises $500,000 through grass roots groups, bringing her to $1 million total. Despite the absolute difference between the candidates’ fund-raising totals having increased, the ratio has declined to a four-to-one advantage for the establishment candidate from six-to-one previously, arguably leaving the insurgent candidate in better shape than before the fund-raising salvos.
The gap between the Tea Party and the establishment closes because Rove intervenes. So, good luck with your plan, Mr. Rove. By our count, Silver is now 2-0-1 against Mr. Rove.