For more than a decade, Republicans have looked to Karl Rove for the solution. Now, a growing number see him as the problem.

Rove, 62, has put his imprimatur and donor money behind the Conservative Victory Project, formed to choose more electable Republican candidates and avoid such defeats as those of Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana, two races the party was banking on winning as part of expanding its U.S. Senate caucus.

That has drawn fire from numerous party activists, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and even businessman Donald Trump, all of whom say Rove shouldn’t try to play kingmaker.

“I am unalterably opposed to a bunch of billionaires financing a boss to pick candidates in 50 states,” Gingrich wrote in a Human Events article published yesterday. “No one person is smart enough nor do they have the moral right to buy nominations across the country,” added Gingrich, whose 2012 bid for the Republican presidential nomination was aided by $21.5 million in donations from casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his family to a friendly super-political action committee.

The fight between Rove and other Republican officials and activists is a proxy for the larger issues the party faces as its traditional apparatus wanes in campaigns dominated by independent groups and big-dollar donors.

Diminished Party

“The advent of super-PACs has been at the expense of the two-party system,” said Terry Holt, a Republican adviser to House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. “In the current context, where the party isn’t as strong and big-donor influence can go its own way, you just have fewer ways for the party to stay broad.”

Rove is “responding to his experience and to the very real need for the party to be more competitive again,” Holt said.

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.