Last night, Karl Rove found himself in the unusual position of defending himself against fellow Republicans on Fox News. The issue? Whether or not his new initiative, the Conservative Victory Project, is taking direct aim at Tea Party candidates in favor of nominating more electable establishment moderates.

The uproar started over the weekend when The New York Times painted the Conservative Victory Project as an attempt "to counter other organizations that have helped defeat establishment Republican candidates over the last two election cycles." The Times called it "the most robust attempt yet by Republicans to impose a new sense of discipline on the party." The rationale for such an initiative is clear: The GOP has lost several winnable Senate races in the last two cycles, arguably because the base nominated far-right candidates like Sharron Angle, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock, who went down to defeat in general election match-ups that a more moderate candidate would have won.

Still, many conservatives are irate over the Conservative Victory Project, prompting Rove to go on Hannity Tuesday night to defend his organization. "This is not Tea Party versus establishment," he said. "I don't want a fight." Rove maintained that he is just trying to enforce the "Buckley rule," which states that Republicans should back the most conservative candidate who can win as opposed to those who pass some kind of ideological purity test. 

Several conservative pundits, however, aren't buying it, and are tearing into Rove as a phony conservative. "Who needs Obama and his Team Chicago to destroy the Tea Party when you’ve got Rove and his big government band of elites?" demands Michelle Malkin, pointing to the Bush-era expansion of Medicare and sweeping No Child Left Behind law as proof that "Rove and his boss abused their power and sacrificed core conservative principles at the altar of 'compassionate conservatism.'"

At CNS News, Terence P. Jeffrey chimed in on the Rove-is-not-a-real-conservative argument:

If you give him credit for believing in the policies and nominations he helped Bush make and defend, then Rove was wrong on the constitutionally appropriate role of the federal government, wrong on foreign policy, wrong on immigration, and wrong on a crucial nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. [CNS News]

Breitbart's Ben Shapiro followed suit, lambasting the Conservative Victory Project as a weak-kneed sacrifice of conservative values in a craven attempt to win seats:

[L]et's unify around the most conservative candidate who is articulate — not the crystal ball attempts to shift conservative principles in order to read the tea leaves.... What we want is a Republican Party unified behind the best principled candidate. And unity requires respect for the Tea Party and its values — the values of the constitution. [Breitbart]

Prominent Tea Party groups have also leaped on the anti-Rove bandwagon. "The Empire is striking back," warned FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe. "All events point to a fundamental clash between the old guard Republican establishment, dictating outdated ideas from the top-down, versus a tech-savvy younger generation of activists driving their agenda from the bottom-up."

The backlash against Rove is so strong, in fact, that at least one Republican is forming a new super PAC with the sole intent of counteracting Rove's group. Former Rep. Joe Walsh, who lost his re-election bid to Democrat Tammy Duckworth in Illinois, recently tweeted: "I'm filing the paperwork to form a super PAC to support freedom-loving conservative alternatives to @KarlRove on FOX." He also wrote on his Facebook page that "if we had listened to Karl Rove in 2010, there would be no Sen. Marco Rubio. Rove backed Charlie Crist, who was last seen raving about President Obama at the Democrat National Convention last year."

Unsurprisingly, many liberals are awfully pleased by the Rove vs. conservatives smackdown.

"The GOP is distracted by a growing civil war," says the BooMan Tribune. "It's now more important for a lot of activists on the right to attack the Establishment (Rove, McConnell, Boehner) than the president or the Democrats. It's a relief."