Reports of the death of the tea party are greatly exaggerated. For about two years now, certain observers have been declaring the demise of this insurgent tendency within the Republican Party.
However, despite recent headlines, we should expect to hear more from the tricorn-hat crowd, especially if they continue to raise money.
The news of late suggests that establishment Republicans are staging a counterinsurgency.
Speaker of the House John Boehner has removed four tea party darlings in the House from prominent committee positions. It’s punishment, pundits say, for their lack of loyalty to GOP establishment positions.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, who will lose his place on the House Budget Committee, issued this statement:
“The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions. This is clearly a vindictive move and a sure sign that the GOP establishment cannot handle disagreement.”
The year is not ending very nicely for the tea party. Many of the candidates it backed lost on Election Day, including Richard Mourdock, who was vying for a U.S. Senate seat from Indiana. Mourdock did not endear himself to the GOP old guard when he defeated six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary. Lugar would have been a shoo-in to retain his seat in the general election had Mourdock not knocked him out.
Then there was the embarrassing fit Karl Rove threw on the set of Fox News’ election night coverage, when he insisted that the network’s analysts had called the election prematurely for Barack Obama. Rove has been noticeably scarce on Fox ever since.
More recently, Dick Armey removed himself from FreedomWorks, the group he helped found, in a dispute that Politico reports was about a lieutenant’s use of funds.
Now comes news that Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the most solid conservatives in that chamber, is stepping down.
This looks like disarray, but it is not the “End of the Tea Party Movement,” as a CNN.com headline put it.
So far, there is no sign of a shifting of the tectonic plates of the conservatism on which the tea party movement was built. Nor are there any indications that more moderate views will soon be prevailing in the GOP.
Republicans may be at a disadvantage in the current haggling over how to avoid the fiscal cliff, but movement conservatives haven’t exactly thrown in the towel. Rove’s Crossroads GPS has bought $500,000 worth of ads attacking Obama’s tax plan. And Rove is hardly persona non grata at Fox.
DeMint may be leaving the Senate, but he’s stepping into the role of president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has done much to bend public policy in favor of its wealthy funders.
And despite the humiliating own-goals scored by Mourdock and Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, there’s one thing the tea party has that establishment Republicans and their Democratic foes envy: a movement.
Remember that is was tea party activism that revived the Republican Party following the defeat of 2008 — the last time it got a drubbing.
The tea party is not one organization; it’s a gathering of ideological affinity groups around the nation, loosely affiliated. We should expect the movement to shift and morph as conditions and issues dictate. It is highly likely the groups will realign where they initially had more success: local and primary elections.
As long as tea party activists articulate a message that resonates with the grass roots of the right, they can expect to have money. Potentially lots of it. Casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who spent more than $100 million on conservative candidates and the PACS that supported them in the 2012 elections, recently told The Wall Street Journal that not only will he not back down from funding the interests of conservative candidates; he is willing to continue his pattern of doubling his donations each general election.
Adelson has begun suggesting a shift back toward the message of fiscal responsibility and smaller government, while leaving social issues alone. Will the tea party play along? Time will tell. But make no mistake: This movement still has a pulse.
MARY SANCHEZ writes for The Kansas City Star. Her column is distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc. Her e-mail address is at firstname.lastname@example.org .