Tea Party candidates had few victories in the 2014 congressional primary season. By challenging "establishment" Republicans, did those Tea Party challenges, nonetheless, make the Republican Party more conservative?
After winning 10 targeted races in the 2010 congressional midterm elections, the Tea Party movement of the Republican Party had only one clear victory this year. Tea Party-backed John Ratcliffe knocked off 91-year-old Ralph Hall in Texas' 4th Congressional district. Other than that, those backed by the Tea Party were unable to be "2014's Ted Cruz," the Tea Party candidate who won election as Texas senator in 2012. It seems as though 2014 is the year the "establishment" held its ground.
Even though the movement claims that the primary defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in June to economics professor Dave Brat in Virginia's 7th Congressional District as a major Tea Party victory, Brat did not receive the movement's support until the very end of the race when they saw he could win and should not be considered a true champion of the Tea Party movement, Dr. John Ishiyama, a professor of political science at University of North Texas, explained in an interview with The Christian Post.
"I don't know if you can even count that as a Tea Party victory. ... He does not fit the profile of most Tea Party advocates," he said. "If anything, he is a fiscal conservative but not a full conservative. He was critical of the Obama administration. The fact that he was a professor gave him some credibility even among mainstream Republicans."
Evaluating whether the Tea Party's won or lost in the 2014 midterm, does not necessarily depend on the results from the ballot box. Far-right conservatives will take satisfaction in the fact that many mainstream Republican candidates may have altered their views, for instance, to be more on the far-right on issues like limited government, reduced taxes, fiscal reform and immigration, in order to stomp out Tea Party-backed threats in primary elections.
Even though the conservative movement has been successful in forcing mainstream Republican candidates to alter their stances to the right to win their primary nomination, Ishiyama believes that the such movement on issues among mainstream GOP candidates is standard practice in primary elections and should not be taken as Tea Party altering the GOP's views as a whole.
"I don't see them moving the Republican Party in any particular way from what the Republican Party represents traditionally," Ishiyama said. "The primaries have become more pronounced recently, I think because the primary season lasts so long. You have to appease to one constituency in the primary which are usually the ones who are most ideologically motivated, who you appeal to with your harshest rhetoric."
Ishiyama, who is also the lead editor of American Political Science Review, said that because the Tea Party does not really have much of a detailed program besides a strong anti-Obama movement and a strong belief in conservative principles. Because of this, he said he does not think the Tea Party will continue to have an effect on GOP policy stance.
"I know that it is quite common for people to say that the Tea Party has shifted the Republican Party," Ishiyama said. "But, that does presume that there is a coherent set of principles that are a part of a Tea Party program. I just don't see that. I think there are lots of people that subscribe to a Tea Party program, but some people are libertarians, and some are full conservatives, and some who are anti-government. I'd be hard-pressed to say that there is a real program."
Ishiyama added it would not surprise him to see GOP congressional candidates, especially those running for the Senate, to revert their stances back towards the middle to appeal to more voters once the general election season starts. He also said that House Republicans will be less likely to revert back towards moderate stances.
"In the general election, you have to actually tack towards the center in order to appeal towards a broader constituency so that you can win in the general election," he said. "You don't have to do that as much in a House election, because House campaigns tend to represent individuals in congressional districts which tend to be ideologically minded anyhow."
Ishiyama does feel that the Tea Party will continue to stay relevant even once the elections are over.
"We are in a period where everything seems to be a permanent election when people are campaigning even in an off year," he said. "Every move is done with the next election in mind. That sort of feeds the Tea Party. That's why they have become permanently relevant because they are always campaigning."