WASHINGTON -- Yes, Virginia, there is a tea party.
And the news that conservative Dave Brat picked off House Majority Leader Eric Cantor Tuesday night in a Republican primary was greeted by both the tea party and Democrats like a miracle in the 7th Congressional District of the Old Dominion.
For instance, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee director Guy Cecil tweeted:
Consider this my RT of all of the pundits claiming the establishment GOP is ascendant and the Tea Party is dead.
— Guy Cecil (@guycecil) June 11, 2014
Emily's List's Marcy Stech was quick to note the trend, as well, pointing to recent tea party triumphs:
David Brat. Thom Tillis. Dan Patrick. Chris McDaniel. #GOPrebranded
— Marcy Stech (@etchaStech) June 11, 2014
And The Washington Post's GOP specialist Robert Costa tweeted that conservative luminaries were in Virginia, celebrating:
SCOOP: As Cantor was defeated, Bozell, Andy Roth of CFG, Needham, Jenny Beth Martin, Tony Perkins were dining in NoVa, celebrating...
— Robert Costa (@costareports) June 11, 2014
Republican analysts said they were not surprised that both the left and the far right erupted in cheers.
"Well they should be. That’s a legitimate response to have," said Rich Galen, who cut his teeth in the Newt Gingrich era of Congress.
But for the GOP mainstream, it spells trouble, Galen said.
First, because all the efforts the party has made since 2010 to incorporate and cool the tea party suddenly seem to have been inadequate.
"I thought we had weathered that storm," Galen said. "If you want to be the majority party in America, you have to be willing to concede that the edges will get farther and farther apart, and I think that's what the Republican Party was trying to do," he added. "The tea party is not interested in that."
And that sets up two problems for the party going into the fall. One is that there is bound to be a new leadership struggle in the House, which, considering how obstreperous the GOP rank-and-file has proven even with set leaders, is likely to spill over onto the floor and in hearing rooms.
Second, while the Republican establishment seems aware that it's nearly impossible to be a national party that leans too far right, members have just been reminded that they better not edge away from their conservative base, which makes it hard for the party to appeal to the broader base of voters in statewide and national contests.
It can affect remaining primaries, and even the lay of the land in 2016.
"Now the tea party folks have two years to get their legs under them and see how they won those races, and see how they can take that to enough of these districts and knock off more guys," Galen said, noting that such activists are probably not thinking about things like the next White House race or control of the Senate in 2016.
"Maybe what’s got to happen is the [National Republican Congressional Committee] or the conference has got to start sitting down with incumbents and say this is what you have to do to win, and not check some purity checklist," Galen said.
If conservatives weren't sure that Democrats see a chance in the tea party upset of the second-most powerful Republican in the House, here's how Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) put it in a statement soon after the news broke:
We all saw how far outside the mainstream this Republican Congress was with Eric Cantor at the helm, now we will see them run further to the far right with the Tea Party striking fear into the heart of every Republican on the ballot and cementing the dysfunction that has paralyzed this Congress and prevented them from taking any action to help middle class families. While House Republicans are racing to the right, Democrats are focused on a mainstream agenda that strengthens the middle class and makes this economy work for every American family. Eric Cantor is the personification of frustration with Washington and House Republicans should be terrified of the backlash from the voters who have been alienated by their race to the right.
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