Yet the tea party has built a vast, long-term activist infrastructure. Members were welcomed by—and gave momentum to—the larger conservative movement that elected Ronald Reagan nearly three decades earlier. After a tough eight years under the George W. Bush administration, many conservatives saw the tea party as a chance to push the GOP to the right. Conservative organizations such as my own quickly began to train tea-party activists to make them more effective, from social-media tactics to community outreach to get-out-the-vote drives.

This infrastructure flourishes today. Tens of thousands of activists meet regularly. Instead of street-corner protests and shouting matches at town halls, tea-party activists now frequently meet with congressmen in their district and Washington offices. The activists have left their mark on the legislature. The recent bipartisan discharge petition to force a House vote on the Born Alive Abortion Survivor Protection Act is one of the latest examples of conservative politicians taking up tea-party-inspired practices. It’s a handful of signatures short of success.

The tea party also has many champions in public office. Sens. Mike Lee, Steve Daines, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton produce a stream of innovative, conservative bills such as the JOBS for Success Act and the Higher Education Reform and Opportunity Act.