Tea Party candidates may have spoiled Republican chances of taking control of the US Senate, but the small-government movement will continue to hold sway in Washington for at least the next few years on fiscal, if not social, issues, experts have said.
If not for the poor performance of some Tea Party-backed Senate candidates in both the 2012 and 2010 elections, Republicans could have been in the majority in the chamber. Instead, much to Republicans’ dismay, Democrats have actually become stronger.
The ground is strewn with the bodies of failed Tea Party candidates in states where Democrats otherwise would have been sent to their own political graves: Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana in 2012; Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware in 2010, to name a few.
Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the head of the Tea Party Caucus Michelle Bachmann appears to have just barely dodged defeat on Tuesday, while colleagues including Allen West and Joe Walsh were not as fortunate.
“The Tea Party is over,” crowed the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee yesterday.
That conclusion could be premature, as Republicans are showing every sign of standing firm to keep taxes low, including for the wealthy, and to limit government spending – central philosophies they share with the Tea Party movement.
The leading Republican, house speaker John Boehner, said as much on Tuesday night, when he proclaimed that president Barack Obama had no mandate to raise taxes on the rich, even though he had scored a solid re-election victory and Democrats increased their membership in the Senate.
Mr Boehner put Democrats on notice after Republicans, who won the house in 2010 thanks to big Tea Party victories, retained power in the chamber.When it comes to budget and tax issues, Republican leaders in Congress may have to continue answering Tea Party demands.
“Boehner still needs to keep his back to the wall on these folks,” said Congress expert Stephen Hess.
Ron Bonjean, a former aide to House and Senate Republican leaders, added, “If you’re speaker, you are going to take the hardest line possible that reflects the Republican conference. And it’s unlikely you budge unless president Obama comes your way with concessions.”
For all the attention Tea Party activists got last year, when they nearly brought the federal government to a grinding halt during a struggle with Democrats over the budget deficit, Mr Hess said the loosely-knit group’s years are numbered.
As the US economy grows healthier, Hess said that this political movement – born out of panic and anger over the deepest recession since the Great Depression – will become increasingly more irrelevant.
He envisioned an obituary for the Tea Party that would read something like: “A group of people who had an impact on the Republican Party in an organised sense between 2010 and 2016.”
Social issues are another matter, however, with Republicans apparently gaining little advantage when the Tea Party wades into abortion, immigration or other controversial matters.