Karl Rove’s plan to prevent people he views as “lousy candidates” from winning Republican primaries has taken a turn for the personal. This morning, a spokesman for Rove’s Conservative Victory Project labeled the Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell “a hater” in response to Bozell’s description of Rove’s allies as “fake conservatives.”

“Bozell is a hater and he also has a long, sordid history hating Karl Rove too,” Conservative Victory Project (CVP) spokesman Jonathan Collegio, who previously worked for Crossroads GPS, said this morning on WMAL. “He has weird, personal axes to grind.”

Bozell had criticized CVP as an attempt by moderate Republicans to stamp out Tea Party conservatives. “We don’t need a second Democrat Party in Washington,” he said in a statement this week.  “These fake conservatives need to go away before they do more damage.” He also noted that “if we had listened to them, there would be no Pat Toomey, no Marco Rubio, no Mike Lee, no Rand Paul, and no Ted Cruz in the Senate today.”

Earlier in the WMAL interview, Collegio explained that “what we can’t do is push these lousy candidates over the finish line — and that goes for Tea Party candidates, but it also goes for the so-called establishment candidates. We need better candidates across the board.”

Rove’s American Crossroads and GPS groups enjoyed some success helping Republicans in 2010, but their millions spent came to naught in 2012. This new initiative marks the first time his groups have openly become involved in Republican primaries.

The attack on Bozell angered a group of conservative grassroots leaders, who are calling for Collegio to be fired. “His attack was not grounded in reason or principle; its justification was nothing more than disagreement with your newly formed organization,” they wrote in a letter to Crossroads GPS president Steven Law. The signatories include radio host Mark Levin, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, and Ginni Thomas. “On behalf of the conservative movement, we are demanding you terminate Mr. Collegio.”  (The letter was also signed by Craig Shirley and Diana Banister, whose PR firm, Shirley and Bannister, is retained by The Washington Examiner.)

Collegio later apologized publicly for using the word “hater,” although he said he has not personally spoken with Bozell.  “I shouldn’t have called him a hater,” Collegio told The Examiner. “It contributed to the vitriol and it was unnecessary. But Bozell called us ‘fake conservatives.’ It’s publicly judging the motives of someone else. It’s pernicious, and it’s not fair, and it doesn’t take into account that there could just be a difference of opinion among conservatives over how to win elections.”

In their letter, the conservative activists wrote that “an apology is not acceptable . . . The sheer audacity of political consultants maligning a beloved and critically important player in American history is simply a bridge too far,” they wrote. “You obviously mean to have a war with conservatives and the Tea Party. Let it start here.”

Collegio mocked the letter, noting that some signatories had gone out of their way to help Christine O’Donnell win the 2010 GOP Senate primary in Delaware. He cited her as precisely the sort of candidate his organization would be working to stop. O’Donnell, whom some conservatives criticized at the time as a poor candidate, lost her general election by 17 points, despite outraising her Democratic opponent two-to-one.

“I’ve been trying to get my friends to sign it, because it’ll make for a funnier story once I get it framed,” Collegio said of the letter. “It would be flattering, if it weren’t so absurd.”