If there’s one thing all conservatives seem to agree on, it’s that we need more Marco Rubios, Rand Pauls and other high-caliber leaders who can fight for our principles in Washington and win others over to the cause.
However, you don’t get to change Washington unless you win elections, and you don’t win elections unless you have top-notch candidates like these. That’s why we helped launch the Conservative Victory Project: to identify and support the strongest, most competitive conservative leaders who can win elections and effectively advance our values in Congress.
In just the last three years, American Crossroads has become one of the largest advocates for movement conservative and Tea Party-backed leaders at the federal level. We stood proudly with Senators Marco Rubio, Rand Paul and Pat Toomey. We also got behind riskier bets like Sharron Angle and Richard Mourdock that many in the “establishment” wouldn’t touch. Regrettably, some of them blew opportunities we should have won.
Conservatives point out that many of our failed candidates were “establishment” retreads instead of Tea Party insurgents. They’re right. That just means we’ve got to get better at putting forward great candidates across the board.
No one benefits more from subpar Republican candidates than the Democratic party. So here’s something else all conservatives should agree on: we don’t want Harry Reid and left-wing Super PACs picking our nominees for us. Yet it’s happening with increasing frequency. In Missouri, Reid’s Super PAC tag-teamed with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and Sen. McCaskill’s campaign to deliver the GOP nomination to Todd Akin, a champion of congressional earmarks who self-immolated within weeks.
How did they get away with it? Conservative groups splintered among several second-tier contenders, weakening the front-runner and paving the way for the Democrat-backed Akin. This should never be allowed to happen again.
Some conservatives also decry a “consultant-driven” political culture that exists just to enrich consultants. Right again. For years, consultants formed outside groups, taking a fundraising commission and a fat slice of the media buy. In contrast, American Crossroads doesn’t pay any fundraising commissions, and no board member, adviser or staffer gets a percentage of funds raised or media placement fees. Strict conflicts-of-interest policies prevent self-enriching side deals. Because we bid work and avoid sole-source contracts, we pay rock-bottom fees and push 96 cents of every dollar out the door for advocacy. We hope other groups have the same model and are as transparent about their policies on conflicts and consultant fees.
In the end, here’s how conservatives can nominate more Rubios and Cruzes and fewer election-losing clunkers: more rigorous candidate vetting (including assessment of fundraising ability and message discipline); more cooperation among conservative groups to try to build consensus instead of brutalizing primaries; and more resourceful recruiting when the presented options don’t look appealing. Will it work every time? Of course not. But if there’s one lesson we should take from 2012, it’s that we can all do better. Let’s get after it.
Steven Law is president and CEO of American Crossroads.