WASHINGTON -- You can forgive Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) if he's feeling like a Tea Party slayer.
He not only led a stinging rebuke to the conservative wing of the Republican Party by pushing the House to accept the short-term payroll tax cut Friday, but he earned the chance to do so by defeating Tea Party darling Sharron Angle little more than a year ago to keep his job.
Angle rode her Tea Party support to a Nevada primary victory over more mainstream Republicans, only to lose to Reid by six points, even though his own ratings were not good.
Jon Summers, who helped Reid orchestrate that win, said it's because whatever anyone thinks about the ex-boxer, he understands people and politics in a way that true believers of the Tea Party do not.
"Harry Reid gets regular people," said Summers. "They're mostly middle of the road. And if you ask people who are already having a hard time scraping by whether it's rational to raise their [payroll] taxes $1,000, they would look at you with bewilderment."
Voters' reaction was at the heart of why Reid and his team on the Democratic side were able to trump the House GOP, even after the Tea Party-aligned members rebelled: No one wanted to explain that Republicans had rejected a Senate bill that preserved a tax cut for ordinary Americans.
Reid "knows what he has to do to win politically," said Summers, noting that one of Angle's fatal flaws as a candidate (she probably had more than most) was her rigid adherence to Tea Party dogma. "She stuck to the ideology, no matter what," Summers said.
So too did the more conservative wing of the House GOP in the tax cut battle, even after the lawmakers took a popular beating and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) compelled them Friday to accept the Senate's two-month extension with a minor tweak.
"I am disappointed that our Republican leadership in both the House and Senate chose a course of political expediency rather than standing on conservative principle," said Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) after the deal was done. "Our House leadership advanced a bill that I am certain many conservative members are not happy with," added Akin, who is vying for the Tea Party vote in a tough Republican Senate primary in Missouri.
"It is my belief that it is far better to stand on principle than to act on perceived short-term political advantage," he said.
When Summer hears language like that, he thinks Reid and the Democrats will score another victory over the GOP at the end of February when the two-month extension runs out.
"We're going to go through this all over again in two months," he said. "The problem for the Republicans is that it's very difficult to message against cutting taxes on the middle class when they do everything they can to protect tax breaks for the rich."
It's likely to shape up as round two of a fight that's already hurt the GOP, but could do even more damage to the Tea Party. In fact, Summers noted that Reid predicted last summer that as the economy improves, the Tea Party will fade.
"The Tea Party was the result of a terrible economy," Reid told the Las Vegas Review Journal. "I've said that many times, and I believe that. ... [The Tea Party] will pass. They will lose a number of seats next year."
Blocking -- or trying to block -- a middle-class tax cut won't help them, Summers said.
"Mainstream people are not as rigid in their ideology," Summers said. "And when you start playing with their pocketbooks, they don't like it."