Ross Douthat writes that the Republicans' apparent new willingness to address spending and entitlement reform represents at least a partial vindication of the Tea Parties. The movement's cynical detractors, who predicted that the Tea Partiers would eventually reveal themselves to be nothing more than angry Bush-era conservatives (or racists), now have to acknowledge that the movement has succeeded in pushing the GOP to oppose spending, at least nominally.
One reason for the Tea Parties' success in gaining influence in the Republican Party, a reason that is somewhat unacknowledged, is the apparent willingness of Tea Party activists to lose general races. The fact that in 2010 and 2009 special elections the Tea Party wing of the party nominated a number of candidates who were inept or otherwise unsuitable for politics is often cited as a shortcoming of the Tea Party movement. But Congressional Republicans' change of tone, so far, indicates that the Tea Party's willingness to lose with flawed conservatives instead of winning with RINOs may now be a significant enforcement tool when it comes to actual policy.
This influence can be seen in a few key votes. The best example is probably the health care repeal vote, in which every Republican voted to repeal Obamacare -- a symbolic vote, yes, but one that was by no means guaranteed in March 2010.
And for every Sharron Angle who lost a race because of a lack of political savvy, there is an Orrin Hatch trashing Obamacare and showing up at FreedomWorks events, or a blue-stater like Olympia Snowe wondering if a single anti-Tea Party vote could mean a loss to a Tea Party primary challenger.
It's still too far early to say whether the Tea Parties will achieve any real success, but so far they are at least having the intended effect.
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