Steve Stockman tells us absolutely nothing about the strength of the tea party

Texas Sen. John Cornyn's smashing victory over Rep. Steve Stockman in the Lone Star State's primary on Tuesday was read by many as a sign that even in what is regarded as the political home of the tea party the movement is losing steam.


FILE - In this Feb. 10, 2014 file photo, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas speaks in Washington. Senate sniping between establishment Republicans and tea partyers resumed Thursday Cruz refused to endorse his fellow GOP Texan in next week's primary. Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate's second-ranking Republican leader, faces tea party-backed Rep. Steve Stockman in Tuesday's primary. Cruz declined to tell reporters how he plans to vote. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)

Wrong.  Or at least, using Stockman to draw that conclusion is wrong.

Yes, Stockman ran as the conservative alternative to Cornyn who he attacked as part of the problem due, at least in part, to the fact that the incumbent is the second ranking Republican in the Senate. And, yes, some of Stockman's views on the problems with the Republican party in Washington align with the tea party. But, the idea that Stockman was a tea party darling is simply not true. In fact, it's hard to find a single major tea party group that endorsed Stockman's campaign. Several leaders of the tea party even denounced it.

And, in other downballot races -- lieutenant governor and attorney general to name two -- candidates who ran as tea party aligned insurgents against more established Republicans did quite well, making predictions of the demise of the tea party in Texas very premature.

So, if Stockman's resounding defeat doesn't tell us anything about the tea party, what does it tell us? Simple. Candidates and the campaigns they run matter.  Go back to the end of last year and the Texas filing deadline. There was significant excitement about the possibility of a genuine tea party candidate getting into the race.  And, had a candidate with genuine skills committed to raising money and running a real campaign decided to run, there is at least the possibility that Cornyn might have been pushed to a runoff in late May.

Instead, Stockman ran. He raised no money and the only headlines he drew were for controversial comments he made along the way.  By the end of the race, it was hard to tell whether Stockman was even campaigning. He was a forgettable candidate who ran a forgettable race. And that's why the comparisons between he and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R) were always ridiculous. Like him or hate him, Cruz is a charismatic candidate who effectively carries the tea party message as well as anyone in the country. Stockman isn't anywhere close to Cruz in terms of natural ability or a commitment to doing the sorts of thing (like, you know, raising money or appearing in public) that winning candidates do.

Steve Stockman, like many bad candidates before him and all of those who will follow in his ignominious footsteps, lost because he was a terrible candidate who ran a non-campaign.  That's it.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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