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The Tea Party’s success is not gauged by primaries alone. It’s gauged by how much the Tea Party’s priorities become the Republican Party’s priorities.
The Tea Party’s impact in primaries is largely about putting fear into establishment candidates, whether they knock them off or not. It took them two cycles, but the traditional Republican establishment took the right lessons from the Bennett and Lugar losses. Orrin Hatch spent 2011-12 voting lockstep with Mike Lee. Primary threats made Mike Enzi part of the organizing group for the defund push. Pat Roberts is doing his best to don the winger apparel. Lindsey Graham is trying like mad to re-establish his conservative credentials. Thad Cochran is the exception that proves the rule: it’s no accident that a traditional Washington appropriator who hasn’t modified his ways is the most vulnerable GOP Senator this cycle. So if establishment Republicans understand that they are vulnerable in primaries, and have to pretend to be Tea Partiers when they’re in cycle, is that a sign that the Tea Party is dead – or a sign that it’s had a significant political impact?
The tea party movement has won because it is now driving the political debate, in both parties. Republicans want to look like tea partiers, and even Democrats are shaping their election campaigns with tea party issues in mind.