• With: Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel, James Freeman, Collin Levy

    GIGOT: Right.

    STRASSEL: And she's going to face a really tough race. This is his way of putting up a warning signal, saying if you guys are not on board with a particular kind of liberal ideology, then you may be a target yourself.

    GIGOT: All right. Thank you all.

    When we come back, there we're just six seats shy of a Senate takeover. And some Republicans believe 2014 could be the year. But could divisions within the Republican Party derail that ambition?


    GIGOT: Some veteran GOP lawmakers are coming under fire this midterm election year and it's not from their Democratic opponents. Instead, groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund, which was founded by former South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, and support Texas Senator Ted Cruz's shutdown strategy, are taking aim at incumbents like Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the target of this recently released ad.


    ANNOUNCER: Bullying, threats, intimidation. The IRS? No. Try Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader. That's right. Mitch McConnell is trying to bully and intimidate conservatives just like the IRS is. Mitch McConnell tried to silence conservatives, calling them traitors who he wants to punch in the nose for criticizing his liberal votes. And McConnell told other conservatives they'd get the death penalty for opposing him.


    GIGOT: All right, Kim. That's the sort of thing you don't usually see, party to party fights.


    That's what Democrats would say about Republicans. So --

    STRASSEL: I would think they would be nicer, Paul.

    GIGOT: Yeah, probably. Is there a precedent for this kind of thing, just briefly, that you can recall?

    STRASSEL: No, I do not remember a precedent for anything like this.

    GIGOT: OK, so --

    STRASSEL: This is very harsh. It's brass knuckles.

    GIGOT: OK, so what's the strategy here? Is it to really take down the entire leadership? Because they're not only challenging Mitch McConnell. They're challenging the deputy Republican leader in the Senate, John Cornyn. They're challenging Pat Roberts in Kansas, Lindsey Graham in South Carolina. There's a whole network of incumbents who are being challenged by the Republicans in the primaries, in particular by these conservative groups.

    STRASSEL: What you have here, Paul, I think we refer to them as the kamikaze caucus in the Senate. These are the guys who -- they want to fight on every issue. They pushed for the shutdown. They wanted a big protracted fight over the debt ceiling. And they want their party to run into the Obama bayonets. They have been very frustrated with Mitch McConnell and other Senators that they have not wanted to do that. So this is a fight over tactics and what they're doing is --


    GIGOT: Kim, is there any substantive issue here? I mean, is there a real difference over policy, or is this just about how much you're willing to fight?

    STRASSEL: No. This is all about tactics. Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz hold nearly identical positions on everything, from the debt to ObamaCare to everything else. This is about the fact they feel Mitch McConnell has not gone out there and fought hard enough with them. It's a concerted effort to topple him and a number of other guys and try to get more people like themselves who would be willing for that fight in the future.

    GIGOT: Dan, is that a legitimate point that the leadership just hasn't fought hard enough?

    HENNINGER: In a sense. Look, the basic problem is that Barack Obama has sucked all the political oxygen out of Washington. There are a lot of long-serving Democrats in Congress who are quitting basically because they don't do politics up there anymore. So Obama --


    GIGOT: You mean they don't do policy up there.

    HENNINGER: They don't do policy anymore.

    GIGOT: They do a lot of politics.


    HENNINGER: Right. Over his term, it's been almost impossible for Boehner or McConnell to do any politics at all with Barack Obama. They don't have the votes either to prevail over them. I think the anxiety is that out in the country of the grassroots, people feel they their story, their arguments are not being made strongly enough by Mitch McConnell and John Boehner. They want a spokesman who will make their argument against Barack Obama, and that hasn't happened, and I think that's a big source of the frustration.

    GIGOT: But that's the historic weakness of Congress.


    GIGOT: It's very hard to have a spokesman coming out of Congress, which is, you know, 435 people all looking for their TV camera at the same time. It's very hard to speak with one voice.

    FREEMAN: Yeah. I think if there's a knock on McConnell, it's that he doesn't do offense. He's one of the all-time greats at stopping Washington from doing bad things, but maybe not someone to advance an agenda. But this may be a measure of how far the conservative movement has come, where '60s and '70s conservatives were trying to get rid of the eastern establishment, liberal Republicans like Rockefeller. If Mitch McConnell is the establishment, he's no Nelson Rockefeller. The party --


    GIGOT: That's for sure.


    FREEMAN: The party has moved far away to the right, and I think that's in response to the president. There is a sense that there needs to be a passionate counterattack, but you need the votes for that.

    GIGOT: Kim, obviously, one goal here of Republicans this cycle is to take back the Senate. They need six seats to do it. But is the goal of some of these groups really not that -- it's take out the leadership first and if you stay in the minority, so what, because, you know --

    STRASSEL: Yeah.