The Tea Party Looks to the Senate, Again

The Tea Party’s power may have waned with the public writ large, but as The New York Times shows, the brand still has plenty of currency with Republican primary voters:

In Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas, Republican Senate candidates are vying for the mantle of Tea Party outsider. A number of them say that they would seek to press an agenda that is generally to the right of the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and that they would demand a deeper policy role for the Senate’s growing circle of staunch conservatives.

Some say they have not decided whether they would support Mr. McConnell, who could find himself contending with the type of fractious rank and file that has vexed the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio.

Remember, these primary challenges don’t have to succeed to be effective. If they can force establishment Republicans to work hard for reelection, and move further to the right, then they will have met their main objective. That the Tea Party has a history of defeating incumbent senators—Indiana Senator Richard Lugar is the most recent trophy—only increases odds that Republicans will bend to right-wing pressure.

Keep this in mind when thinking about Mitt Romney’s supposed moderation. If the Republican nominee beats Obama for the presidency, he’ll likely come to the White House with a Republican Senate and an emboldened conservative movement. For those who believe in Romney’s moderation, how exactly does he use that scenario to his advantage, and pass centrist legislation? Far from moderation, the most likely outcome is an intensely right-wing agenda, driven by the Republican coalition as it currently exists, and not the (assumed) policy preferences of President Romney.