This was starting to look like a bad year for the Tea Party, with primary election losses to Republican establishment candidates beginning to pile up. Then came Texas.
In yet another example of the distinctiveness of Lone Star State politics, Tea Party candidates had a field day Tuesday in primary runoff elections, knocking off several Republican incumbents.
In the highest-profile race, state senator and conservative radio host Dan Patrick, with energetic Tea Party backing, defeated Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, ending his 16 years in statewide office.
That victory, and wins in down-ballot races by their favored candidates, had Tea Party officials in Texas feeling especially good about their prospects.
In Texas, Republicans have held all statewide elected offices for years and they have sizable majorities in both chambers of the state Legislature.
But that alone isn’t enough — Tea Party activists view themselves as a scourge of Republicans and Democrats alike.
In Texas, their ire was fueled by a number of issues, said Ken Emanuelson, a co-founder of the Dallas Tea Party.
Growing state debt, border security, statehouse Republicans letting Democrats head Senate committees in exchange for Democrats allowing legislation to proceed, and chafing over gun laws by some Second Amendment hard-liners all contributed to the Tea Party’s Texas surge, Emanuelson said.
At a time when diminished Tea Party enthusiasm elsewhere contributed to losses for the movement in Kentucky and Idaho, Tea Party excitement levels remain high in Texas, Emanuelson said.
“We’re still turning out people and the meetings going on are still well attended and folks are fired up and they’re hungry to learn more,” he said.
Writing of the wins by Patrick and Ken Paxton, the Tea Party choice for Texas attorney general, the Dallas Morning News put it this way:
“The muscular Tea Party faction of the Texas Republican Party — that would be the Sen. Ted Cruz wing — proved its staying power by carrying two statewide candidates to victory Tuesday. …”
“Both were overwhelming choices of the sliver of the electorate that decides party runoffs in this state. For today’s Texas GOP, the bulk of that sliver is the hyper-involved, animated faction on the right. Where Tea Party candidates have lost luster recently in some states, they operate on high octane in Texas.”
Dewhurst has become practiced at losing to Tea Party candidates in primaries. In 2012, Cruz defeated him to go on to win the Senate seat vacated by Kay Bailey Hutchison.
“We have to give some credit to Ted Cruz because Cruz made all these arguments against Dewhurst that clearly weakened him,” Emanuelson said.
One Texas race in which the fall of a longtime congressman can’t be attributed to the Tea Party was the defeat of 91-year-old GOP Rep. Ralph Hall by former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe. Tea Party activists could be found in both candidates’ camps.
It was another reminder that the Tea Party may be alive and well in Texas but is far from monolithic.