Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and his band of tea party-aligned House conservatives proved over the past month just how much influence they have over the Republican Party in Washington. And yet, outside Washington, disapproval numbers for the tea party are soaring.
Here's the trend line on approval/disapproval of the tea party in Pew polling from 2010 to the present, showing that unfavorable views of the tea party have doubled since February 2010:
Here is that same trend line by party identification:
From June 2013 to October 2013, tea party favorable ratings dropped nine points among Republicans, eight point among independents and seven points among Democrats. (Interestingly, tea party favorable ratings -- at least among Republicans and independents -- had been on the rise between February 2010 and June 2013.)
This polling bears out the broader problem for the Republican Party going forward. The tea party remains a potent force within the walls of Congress -- thanks in large part to the fact that most Republican politicians live in fear of crossing their activist base and losing a primary. But, apart from the hard-core GOP activists, it's becoming less and less popular. The fact that just three in 10 independents now have favorable views of the tea party should be a warning to any 2016 Republican candidate that closely affiliating with the party's most conservative elements could be problematic in a general election. Of course, to win the nomination in 2016, you may well need those tea party activists on your side -- or at least not strongly against you. Therein lies the rock-meet-hard-place that Republicans are in at the moment.