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Mary Sanchez: Tea party movement is down but it’s not out

  • Kansas City Star
  • Published Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012, at 12 a.m.

Reports of the death of the tea party are greatly exaggerated.

For about two years now, certain observers have been declaring the demise of this insurgent tendency within the Republican Party. However, despite recent headlines, we should expect to hear more from members of the tricorn-hat crowd, especially if they continue to raise money.

The news of late suggests that establishment Republicans are staging a counterinsurgency. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has removed four tea party darlings in the House from prominent committee positions. It’s punishment, pundits say, for their lack of loyalty to GOP establishment positions.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, who will lose his place on the House budget and agriculture committees, issued this statement: “The GOP leadership might think they have silenced conservatives, but removing me and others from key committees only confirms our conservative convictions. This is clearly a vindictive move and a sure sign that the GOP establishment cannot handle disagreement.”

The year is not ending very nicely for the tea party. Many of the candidates it backed lost on Election Day, including Richard Mourdock, who was vying for a U.S. Senate seat from Indiana. Mourdock did not endear himself to the GOP old guard when he defeated six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the primary. Lugar would have been a shoo-in to retain his seat in the general election had Mourdock not knocked him out.

Then there was the embarrassing fit Karl Rove threw on the set of Fox News’ election night coverage, when he insisted that the network’s analysts had called the election prematurely for Barack Obama. Rove was scarce on Fox after that.

More recently, Dick Armey removed himself from FreedomWorks, the group he helped found, in a dispute that Politico reports was about a lieutenant’s use of funds.

And Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., one of the most solid conservatives in that chamber, is stepping down.

This looks like disarray, but it is not the “End of the Tea Party Movement,” as a CNN.com headline put it.

So far, there is no sign of a shifting of the tectonic plates of the conservatism on which the tea party movement was built. Nor is there any indication that more moderate views will soon be prevailing in the GOP.

Republicans may be at a disadvantage in the current haggling over how to avoid the fiscal cliff, but movement conservatives haven’t exactly thrown in the towel. Rove’s Crossroads GPS has bought $500,000 worth of ads attacking Obama’s tax plan. And Rove is hardly persona non grata at Fox.

DeMint may be leaving the Senate, but he’s stepping into the role of president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has done much to bend public policy in favor of its wealthy funders.

And despite the humiliating own-goals scored by Mourdock and Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, there’s one thing the tea party has that establishment Republicans and their Democratic foes envy: a movement.

Remember that it was tea party activism that revived the Republican Party after the defeat of 2008 – the last time it got a drubbing.

The tea party is not one organization; it’s a gathering of ideological affinity groups around the nation, loosely affiliated. We should expect the movement to shift and morph as conditions and issues dictate.

Make no mistake: This movement still has a pulse.

Mary Sanchez is a columnist for the Kansas City Star.

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