Tea party leaders are licking their wounds after a devastating year as their prized "principled" candidates were thrashed in primary elections by Republicans supported by the party’s establishment.
The problems for the conservative movement were compounded this year with their failure of a consortium of GOP rebels in the House to oust more moderate House Speaker John Boehner, Politico
The South Carolina Tea Party Coalition was still reeling as it staged its annual three-day convention over the weekend, with the members and invited speakers clashing over what went wrong in 2014 and how they can mount a major comeback culminating in 2016.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and conservative activist Ben Carson, all potential presidential contenders in 2016, turned up for the event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, famed for its beautiful beaches and golf courses.
A major talking point centered on the outrage over the conservatives who failed to back the recent attempt by tea party House members and right-leaning representatives to defeat Boehner as speaker.
"I’m furious about Boehner," said Joe Dugan, who organized the conference. "Absolutely furious. I’m extremely surprised, I’m extremely disappointed. I don’t know what promises Boehner made. Rather than berate, I’m going to watch a lot more carefully."
Dugan added that tea party members who backed Boehner will now have to prove their affiliation to the cause all over again, according to Politico.
Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, a member of the House Tea Party Caucus who was first elected during the 2010 tea party wave, blamed the group’s problems during the November elections on the lack of a grass-roots organization.
"The tea party gets [factionalized] in primaries a lot because the tea party is just really a large group of average Americans who believe in limited government, free markets and are frustrated with Big Government," said Duncan.
He pointed out that the conservative movement had succeeded, however, by pushing many candidates to the right, helping the GOP to consolidate its power in the House and win control of the Senate.
"The media tries to say [the tea party] is dead, on its way out," Duncan said during a speech at the three-day conference, while also noting members helped more moderate GOP candidates win close races even after tea party contenders had lost in primaries.
Politico claimed that tea party candidates in competitive Senate races lost because mainstream Republican groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, backed their own incumbent candidates, many of whom were also supported by establishment GOP leaders.
"Ultimately the critical advantage the tea party folks had a hard time overcoming was the massive monetary advantage, and that it’s hard to beat an incumbent," said Rick Manning, president of the tea party group Americans for Limited Government.
Conservative Katrina Pierson, who ran a failed primary campaign to unseat Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, said that the tea party needs to "consolidate our resources and target our efforts," according to the political news website.
And Vernon Robinson, the national political director of the Draft Ben Carson for President Committee, insisted that although "tea party candidates got clobbered" the group was still a powerful force in Republican politics.
"The only reason [the GOP] has a majority in Congress is because conservatives worked for them," Robinson told Politico.
Manning said that the tea party has now set its sights on capturing seats in the next election, and specifically having a conservative in the White House.
But he says that the party must concentrate on getting behind one candidate rather than splitting support among several possible contenders, which could result in an establishment GOP figure winning the presidential primaries in 2016, as with Mitt Romney in 2012.
"We have to identify, early, the right candidate, don’t allow the vote to be bifurcated or [split seven ways] so that we’re able to hold sway in the primaries as opposed to what happened in 2012," Manning said.
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