Join the discussion: Has the tea party lost its relevance?

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 7 2015 5:20 a.m. MDT

In this June 19, 2013, file photo, tea party activists rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press) In this June 19, 2013, file photo, tea party activists rally in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press)

The establishment members of the GOP won a series of political victories over their tea party counterparts this past Tuesday, causing some to wonder about the tea party’s future.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell walked away from the recent Senate primary election with 60 percent of the vote, compared to his tea party opponent’s 35 percent, according to The Atlantic. Similarly, establishment Republicans beat out tea party candidates by wide margins in Idaho, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Oregon, and some pundits are now saying that it shows how weak the tea party has become.

Tea party candidates have lost the ability to appeal to anybody, Republicans included, according to an anonymous conservative strategist quoted by the National Journal. The strategist went on to express his view that although many GOP hopefuls still align themselves with the tea party, a majority of GOP voters no longer identify themselves with the group.

"The tea party as a brand is dead in general elections," the source told the National Journal. "It's on death's door in primaries."

Not everyone agrees that the tea party is becoming obsolete. It may still have some sway, even if that sway means weakening the GOP from the inside and pushing voters away, some argue.

“Republican infighting is far more common and more brutal than that experienced by Democrats, egged on by a constellation of rabble-rousing conservative groups who pour money into ginning up the base,” said Molly Ball of The Atlantic on the topic of the tea party. “These battles, it hardly needs to be said, inevitably push the nominee far to the right in ways that may alienate moderate voters.”

Ball went on to express her disbelief that the tea party will be able to provide real support for its more moderate fellow Republicans. “For many on the right, attacking Republicans has become the only thing they know how to do.”

But all of these critiques are focusing on these initial, small-scale primaries and ignoring the big picture, said Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast. The tea party may have suffered defeats in these elections, but the party is far from obsolete.

“While 2014 is, to be sure, going to go down as a bad tea party year in electoral terms, we certainly can’t yet say the same of 2016 — a much more important year, i.e. presidential,” said Tomasky. “In fact, as of today, what we can say about 2016, speculative as it may be, is that the tea party is if anything in the driver’s seat. The guy we’ve all taken to calling the GOP front-runner, Rand Paul, is a tea party guy. That simple fact alone hardly makes for anything I’d call dead.”

Bethan Owen is a writer for the Deseret News Moneywise and Opinion sections. Twitter: BethanO2

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