Rove mocks Palin. Who'll win this feud?

Rove mocks Palin on 'Fox News Sunday,' following her CPAC speech where Sarah Palin took on Karl Rove, the GOP strategist, without mentioning him by name. Is this a real or mock feud? It seems prone to framing as a high school spat.

Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Republican strategist Karl Rove gestures while at a luncheon at the California Republican Party convention, in Sacramento, Calif., earlier this month.

Karl Rove on Sunday hit back at Sarah Palin for suggesting he’s a clueless apparatchik who should stop trying to vet GOP candidates and instead run for office himself.

Mr. Rove on “Fox News Sunday” sarcastically thanked Ms. Palin for her encouragement that he should throw his hat in the ring in his native Texas but added, “I don’t think I’m a good candidate: [I’m] kind of a balding, fat guy. And second, if I did run for office and win, I would serve out my term, and I wouldn’t leave office midterm.”

We see what you’re doing there, Karl. You’re calling ex-Governor Palin a quitter. She resigned her office midway through her first term, in 2009, in case you’ve forgotten. She’d had a taste of the political big time via the losing 2008 McCain-Palin campaign and decided it was time to leave Alaska to get ready for her next political adventure – which, as Rove noted, does not appear to involve running for office herself.

So it’s on! Why does this feud seem particularly prone to framing as a high school spat, as if it’s the head cheerleader versus the student-body president?

Anyway, here’s the background: Rove, President George W. Bush’s political adviser, has long been a ferocious competitor who puts winning as perhaps the highest political virtue. Because of that, he has often complained out loud about Republican candidates who win primaries but he feels are unsuited for general elections.

Remember Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware tea party activist who was a surprise winner of the state’s 2010 Senate primary and then got clocked in November? Remember her “I am not a witch” ad? Rove was her vocal foe from the beginning.

“This is not a race we are going to be able to win,” Rove said on Fox while she was still celebrating her primary win.

Rove similarly complained about Todd Akin, the losing Missouri Senate candidate whose “legitimate rape” comments turned off many swing voters.

More recently, Rove has suggested that his American Crossroads group will bankroll opponents to such tea party-backed politicians as a means to get more Republicans actually elected. It’s his view that right now, the GOP might well control the Senate as well as the House if the party had been more ruthless in candidate selection.

That’s the real split here, of course. It isn’t cheerleaders versus the math club. It’s Palin and her tea party ideology versus a more traditional Washington GOP establishment.

In her highly entertaining Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) speech over the weekend, Palin took on Rove over this issue without mentioning him by name.

“If these experts who keep losing elections and keep getting rehired and getting millions, if they feel that strongly about who gets to run in this party, then they should buck up or stay in the truck. Buck up or run,” Palin said. “[They] can head on back to the great Lone Star State and put their name on some ballot – though for their sakes, I hope they give themselves a discount on their consulting services.”

The CPAC crowd, which leans toward libertarian tea party types, ate that up. (They also loved it when she drank from a Big Gulp and made fun of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, but that’s another story.)

So there you have it. This split is about more than two people. In a way, it represents the struggle now going on for the heart of the Republican Party. Does the GOP have to tack with the winds, adjust its position on such issues as immigration to meet voter preferences, and become more like the Democrats to win? Or should it double down on conservative positions to better motivate America’s true believers?

All we can say is we’d love to see Palin and Rove argue this over face to face. Perhaps they could do a home-and-home reality series. In the first episode, they’d go deer hunting. First to bag a buck wins. In the second, they’d be tested on the nation’s congressional districts and the percentage of the GOP vote in each, while sitting in a D.C. office without windows or fresh air.

In the third and last episode, they’d just sit there, and viewers would phone in pledges to their favorites. The one with the biggest political-action committee at the end wins and is congratulated by the host, Stephen Colbert.

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