When did Ted Cruz’ challenge against David Dewhurst for the Texas Senate become a referendumon the tea party? Probably the same time as every other race with a Tea Party-backed candidate: as soon as he threw his hat in the ring.
It seems everyone is waiting for the tea party, with its platform consisting primarily of Constitution worship, to lose momentum and slip into the cracks of history. Each big race with a tea party-backed candidate becomes a litmus test of public support for the pseudo-third party.
That question was supposed to be over with after landslide victories in 2010, most notably of Florida’s Marco Rubio to the Senate and Kentucky’s Rand Paul to the House. But apparently each state and every must prove the power of tea party fervor through election results. With the crushed hopes of Democrats in trying to oust tea party-darling Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, deniers look “darn silly,” a Las Vegas columnist wrote.
In Tarrant County primaries, the tea party came out well, with wins in Arlington, Bedford/Euless, and a run-off in Fort Worth.
Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy said the party’s vision had “come to fruition.”
But there are good reasons to exercise caution, said Matthew Esbaugh-Soha, a political science professor at the University of North Texas. Far-right Republicans were ousting more moderate incumbents before the tea party rose up as a response to the election of President Barack Obama, he said.
Republicans have been growing ever more conservative over the past 15 years or so, said Esbaugh-Soha. The tea party is a part of that, but not necessarily the cause of it, he added. He pointed out that Denton’s Rep. Myra Crownover easily defeated a tea party-backed candidate during the primary.
“The jury is still out on whether it’s become more influential,” he said. “If Cruz wins, I would reconsider and say okay there is something important at work here. If Dewhurst wins, I would call it an example of Tea party candidates flaming hot and burning out.”
Rebecca Acuna, a spokesperson for the Tarrant County Democratic Party, sees the race between the super-wealthy and connected Dewhurst and tea party-underdog Cruz as an example of how extreme the GOP has become.
Dewhurst, the long-time lieutenant governor, supported billions of dollars in education cuts, the first such cuts to education in years, and Cruz is saying that’s not conservative enough?
“If Cruz wins, that shows that Texas Republicans have officially gone off the deep end,” Acuna said. “There’s going to be a huge backlash. They’ve gotten so much to the right that it’s completely out of the mainstream.”
Of course, that’s what Democrats said about Gov. Walker, whose tea party support helped him hold onto his seat despite Democratic efforts to oust him with a recall election.
Despite the tea party’s wins, it’s important to remember that there is constant change in politics, Esbaugh-Soha said.
The unofficial party that made former Gov. Sarah Palin its unofficial leader could still fade away. And since tea party candidates resist compromise — even more so than current establishment Repulicans and Democrats, which is saying something — what happens if and when they finally attain serious political power? he asked.
“If you’re the governing party, you have to cut deal to get things done,” he said. “Is the tea party going to do that if they gain power?”
For now, many conservatives think it’s the tea party is the best thing since Ronald Reagan.
“This is truly a reflection of the strongest political force in America,” said Georgia Rep. Paul C. Broun.