Is the tea party over?

Perry has been clumsy at explaining his digressions from Tea Party gospel, but he doesn’t have nearly as much to explain to that constituency as the blue-state front-runner. Romney, to his shame, denied citizens of Massachusetts their sacred right to breathe carbon emissions, swim at polluted beaches and dump their health crises at the emergency room. “Romneycare” is a burden. “Perrycare,” by comparison, is just another name for praying you don’t get sick.

In this race, Rick Perry is the Tea Party’s dream candidate, the one remaining figure who could translate a noisy backlash into serious power. If Rick Perry loses, the Tea Party will have missed the opportunity of a lifetime. If he wins, Perry being Perry, it’s not entirely clear whether he will appease its members, but my guess is he’ll try.

“Rick Perry is the only candidate who would actually close down a cabinet department,” one longtime admirer told me, when I asked whether a President Perry would disappoint the Tea Party. “You would see a very happy base — at least for the first term.”

The rest of us are left to recall the advice handed down 10 years ago by the late, wisecracking Cassandra of Texas politics, Molly Ivins: “Next time I tell you someone from Texas should not be president of the United States, please pay attention.”