Herman Cain made no sense when he ran for the 2012 Republican nomination for president. That he was the front-runner for so long was mystifying given his shifty position on abortion, his “999” plan so complicated even he couldn’t explain it and all that stuff “twirling around in my head” on Libya. But Cain made absolute sense when he talked about the state of the tea party on Fox News yesterday.

“The tea party movement is alive and well. Now, I never expected tea party-backed candidates … to take Congress by storm,” he said. “But I think the key thing is it’s causing many of the incumbents to move more to the right relative to what the tea party message is.” Truer words have never been spoken, especially by Mr. 999.

Anyone paying attention knows Cain is absolutely right. The Republican Party and the tea party are now indistinguishable. Ever since now-former Sen. Robert Bennett, the three-term super conservative from Utah, was defeated at the state party convention in 2010 by the even more conservative and now-current Sen. Mike Lee, the GOP has lived in fear of the hard-right grass-roots movement. Yes, some tea party groups were co-opted by moneyed interests. But as Paul Waldman documented at The Plum Line yesterday, plenty of reasonable right-of-center Republicans became unreasonable apostles of the far-far right if not in policy then most definitely in rhetoric. The better to survive a primary challenge, right, Lindsey Graham?

The negative impact of all this on the governance of this nation was clearly demonstrated in last week’s border-bill fiasco. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Hostageville), once again, had to pull a bill from the floor because of disquiet on the far right of his already far-right caucus. Even that ill-advised lawsuit against the president is believed to be his attempt at placating those tea partyers calling for President Obama’s impeachment. And, as I’ve argued to the point of annoyance, that little maneuver is so not going to work.

So, yes, Cain is right. The tea party is alive and well. It’s in full control of the Republican Party and has ground things to a halt on Capitol Hill. When you have that kind of power, losing a few primary races is hardly a death sentence.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj