As both an ideological movement and a faction of the GOP, the tea party did not fare well in this month’s elections. President Obama won reelection — thus blocking tea-party Republicans from pursing their agenda from the White House — and Republicans failed to make gains in the Senate, thus blocking their ability to pass right-wing legislation.
The Wall Street Journal reports that they’re regrouping from this setback and are planning for renewed action against Republican lawmakers they perceive as not conservative enough, thus bucking the recent trend of Republican “moderation”:
The tea-party movement is trying to regroup after taking some licks in this month’s elections. Several groups already are setting their sights on 2014 congressional races, in which they plan to promote their preferred candidates and hope to weed out Republicans they consider insufficiently conservative. …
Conservative groups also are considering potential challenges to GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee and Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, whom some activists view as not conservative enough.
If the goal is to build a more ideologically unified Republican Party, then this money could pay big dividends. There were two big obstacles to tea-party success in the 2012 elections: demographic changes and the composition of the electorate. There's nothing right-wing conservatives can do about the former — their share of the voting population will continue to shrink — but they can capitalize on the latter.
The Democratic advantage in presidential elections comes from the party’s ability to mobilize unlikely voters, who are disproportionately nonwhite and low-income and are likely to vote for Democrats if they are at the polls. But midterm elections lack the spectacle, urgency and cultural resonance of the presidential contest, and as a result, far fewer people are willing to put the time or energy into voting.
The GOP's base of older, whiter voters is smaller, but what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in consistency. These are regular voters, who support Republican candidates in almost every election.
Which is to say that for as much as 2012 was a disappointing year for tea-party Republicans, 2014 promises to be much better. In all likelihood, Democrats will have a hard time bringing their voters to the field, and as a result, the electorate will look less young — and less brown — than it did in 2012. With Democrats defending 20 Senate seats, there’s a fair chance of substantial Republican gains in the chamber.
A tea party that devotes the next two years to promoting conservative candidates and removing moderates or non-ideologues is one that is well-positioned to expand its influence in the next round of elections.
It should be said that if you're looking for a reason to be skeptical of Republican reform efforts, this is it. The important thing about the tea party is that it’s dedicated to its vision of political change. Or, to put this another way, conservatives know what they want and know how to get it. Until Republican moderates learn to instill a similar level of dedication in their supporters, they'll be at a disadvantage.