Talk radio hosts created some of this confusion by focusing on tactical differences, for instance Senator Ted Cruz’s attempt to “defund” Obamacare in the fall of 2013. Cruz argued that the GOP House could force Harry Reid to repeal Obamacare, and then somehow get Obama himself to agree to destroy his life’s work. These tactics, which led to a government shutdown, did not work as advertised. Polls showed support for Republicans hit new lows and approval of Obamacare hit new highs. Both turned around only after the shutdown threat disappeared and the nation could focus on the problems with the Obamacare rollout. Tactics may be wise or foolish, but disagreements over them does not change the underlying unanimity within the Republican Party, top to bottom, that Obamacare should be repealed.

A second reason many see an imaginary fight between the Tea Party movement and the establishment is that both terms are rather amorphous, and are often used and defined dishonestly. Fringe candidates with little or no support have cried out that they are the true Tea Partiers, and some national groups foolishly echo these claims. Local activists who support the more electable conservatives are drowned out by national voices claiming to speak on the Tea Party’s behalf. For instance North Carolina’s Speaker of the Assembly Thom Tillis, who is running for U.S. Senate, was attacked by national “Tea Party” groups as the establishment candidate. But Tillis has a solid conservative record, and real-life polling in the state found that he won strong support from self-identified Tea Party voters.