Within the realm of Senate primaries, there’s not as clear-cut of a field of candidates this time in the challenger side with appropriators on one side and strong limited government types on the other (see Nebraska, where Tea Party folks are split between Sasse and Osborn). And the story hasn’t been finalized in North Carolina or Georgia. But even considering the relatively narrow issue of primaries, it’s clear that establishment guys who run as establishment guys lose: their path to winning is to appeal to the Tea Party, champion opposition to Obamacare, hoist the musket and run as right-wingers. Is the fact Mitch McConnell is winning his primary today because of Rand Paul a sign of Tea Party weakness? I think not.
This also speaks to the generational point, where we see Tea Partiers elected to lower level offices rise to take more prominent positions, backed by a new infrastructure of groups which can offset traditional fundraising routes. Think about what the roster in the Senate looks like in 2020, after the next two or three cycles. Senators like Chambliss, Cochran, Grassley, Hatch, Isakson, McCain, Roberts, Shelby, and Wicker will all be gone. What will their replacements look like? If the answer is more Tea Party-friendly and less traditional Grand Old Party, then the Tea Party was an unmitigated success. And there’s no question that of the top ten most public and prominent faces of the next generation of Republican policy leadership in DC, most — Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Pat Toomey — are all Tea Partiers or Tea Party-friendly. Only Paul Ryan is outside the Tea Party circle of friendship, and they still like him just fine — heck, he used to work for Empower America.