The rift comes as party officials are working to build unity, become more competitive in statewide and national races and avoid confrontation with the anti-tax tea party supporters who provide an animated activist base even as many of their candidates alienate voters.
"This dust-up is the latest skirmish in the never-ending war between GOP pragmatists and purists," said Jack Pitney, a professor of political science at Claremont McKenna College.
"The Conservative Victory Project wants to avoid the nomination of incompetent candidates, even if that means supporting a less conservative candidate over a more conservative candidate," said Pitney. "Its critics see it as an effort to purge strong conservatives from the party."
For Rove, it's a rare moment where criticism is coming from fellow Republicans rather than Democrats.
He became a target for partisan attacks after serving as the principal strategist for President George W. Bush's rise in Texas politics and two presidential victories. In 2010, Rove helped organize two of the most active independent political organizations — bankrolled by unlimited funding from largely secret donors — in a further effort to shape elections and expand the Republican Party's influence.
American Crossroads and Crossroads Grassroots Policy Strategies spent a combined $175.7 million on the 2012 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group that tracks campaign spending. The Crossroads groups backed the unsuccessful presidential bid of Republican Mitt Romney, lost 10 of 12 targeted Senate races, and were defeated in four of nine House seats.
Brent Bozell, chairman of ForAmerica, a grassroots group that promotes limited government and Christian values, said Rove "blamed Akin and Mourdock, anything to hide his record, which is just beyond abysmal. We are saying we are not going to put up with this. He is not going to tell conservatives what to think and not going to pick our candidates."