The tea party has changed the political landscape in ways that are likely to last for a while. Every Republican candidate, for example, at least claims now to be a fiscal conservative. Even Romney, whose greatest achievement as a governor was mandatory health insurance, now says he supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution that would cap spending at 20% of gross domestic product, a deep cut below the current 24%. Santorum goes even further, proposing a spending cap of 18%.

And it’s not really the tea party’s fault that its favorite candidates, Bachmann and Perry, stumbled. Bachmann, who founded the Tea Party Caucus in the House, never found a way to turn that into a qualification to be president. Perry, whose resume was strong on paper, proved so inept in televised debates that he couldn’t remember which Cabinet agencies he wanted to abolish.

According to the “entrance poll” sponsored by news organizations, about a third of those who voted in the GOP caucus pronounced themselves “strong supporters” of the tea party; of those, 30% said they voted for Santorum, 17% for Gingrich and 16% for Paul.