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The Tea Party Is Alive and Well

Ted Cruz joins Richard Mourdock and Deb Fischer as its latest victors.

Aug 13, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 44 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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But Cruz, the brainy former state solicitor general, former Supreme Court clerk, and political novice, surprised observers by holding Dewhurst under 50 percent in the May primary and forcing the July runoff. Over those two months, the Cruz campaign and its conservative interest group allies, like the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, and the Tea Party Express, continued to push one message: In the Senate, Dewhurst would be a go-along-to-get-along moderate while Cruz would be a conservative fighter.

“There’s not any question that Dewhurst would have worked with [Senate minority leader Mitch] McConnell,” says Chris Chocola, the president of the Club for Growth. Cruz, on the other hand, would be on the side of the Tea Party caucus and its de facto Senate leader, Jim DeMint. The message worked: Cruz swung his margin by more than 20 points to trounce Dewhurst, 57 percent to 43 percent.

While the Tea Party has had these important victories this cycle, it’s also learned to pick its fights wisely. In 2010, an open seat in Delaware that Republican Mike Castle was almost sure to win was squandered when primary voters nominated the problematic Christine O’Donnell instead. Delaware prefers moderate Republicans like Castle, and what should have been a pickup for the GOP turned into a national embarrassment. That served as a cautionary tale for grassroots conservatives, and it’s clear the Tea Party is learning to cede some political battles, particularly in purple and blue states, to win the larger war over control of the Senate.

In Virginia, for example, Richmond Tea Party leader Jamie Radtke was able to offer only a weak challenge to George Allen for the Republican nomination. For all Allen’s flaws as a candidate, Radtke’s were worse—she was disorganized, unserious, and uncompetitive outside of Virginia’s deeply conservative regions. National conservative groups stayed on the sidelines. And while Utah’s Orrin Hatch faced Tea Party opposition from former state senator Dan Liljenquist, Republican voters rewarded Hatch with a primary win after the veteran senator worked hard to gain the trust of grassroots organizations.

So, gone are the mass protests and lively town hall meetings that characterized the Tea Party’s ascendance as a major political force. But just as the movement transformed our politics, politics have transformed the movement. As Chocola says, “I’ve been of the opinion all along that the Tea Party’s just getting started.” The Tea Party is more nimble, more shrewd, and more interested in building a governing majority than in simply making a statement.

Michael Warren is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.

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