TPM Cafe: Opinion

Is the Tea Party on its last legs or still a powerful force in the Republican Party? Preoccupied with this question, the Beltway political media has for months cycled through dizzying gyrations, all along managing to miss the big picture.

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In True the Vote’s complaint, it asks for review of the poll books (looking apparently for voters who both voting in the Democratic primary a few weeks earlier and the Republican primary). I agree that if the campaign (or True the Vote or someone else) could show that more than 6,700 people voted in both primaries, that could be grounds for a court to order a new election in the #MSSEN Cochran-McDaniel case. (So far I have not seen public evidence of the alleged thousands of such voters already uncovered.)

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Last week in Macon, Georgia, a man was attempting to holster his pistol and accidentally shot himself in the penis. The story quickly became a national one with many blogs and comments focusing on the apparent humor of shooting oneself between the legs. Much hilarity ensued on the Web, particularly after it was discovered that the gentleman had driven himself to a friend’s house before he even noticed the injury.

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Stepping back a moment from the complex legal, social and economic implications of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, I am struck by the decision’s central role in the culture wars of the early 21st century. Think about it: a large swath of conservative Christendom has convinced itself (and its allies in the Republican Party) that the maintenance of religious liberty depends on a for-profit company’s ability to avoid any remote complicity in the supply of contraceptive services that according to an exotic and extra-scriptural theory of human life might risk the further development of a microscopic zygote.

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A reporter emailed me a question shortly after upstart David Brat defeated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the recent Republican primary election for Virginia’s seventh district: When, he asked, was the last time someone like Cantor had lost a primary? Possible answers to this question indicate three very different ways of thinking about the significance of the Cantor defeat for the Republican Party and its likely future.

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Given how often it has been left for dead, the Tea Party has had a pretty heady few months. Just when it seemed that long-serving solid Republican incumbents would avoid losing primary fights to Tea Party identified candidates, Mississippi Senator Thad Cochran was forced into a run-off he barely won, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor surprisingly lost his primary by a large margin to a poorly funded college professor backed by grassroots Virginia Tea Partiers.

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On Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States sided with the right to work movement and weakened the ability of hundreds of thousands of U.S. domestic workers to collectively bargain for higher wages. In its 5-4 ruling on Harris v. Quinn, the Court held it is a violation of the First Amendment for the state of Illinois to assess dues on home care workers for the purposes of paying for collective bargaining efforts. This decision affects the several states who have in-home care programs like Illinois’s program, including California, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, and Missouri.

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The Republican Party is at war with itself – and has been since 2010 when several self-styled "insurgents" identified with the Tea Party challenged established Republicans in the primaries. Not all challengers win, but to date upsets by Tea Party challengers have cost the GOP at least seven seats in general elections for the U.S. Senate. This is a source of continuing friction between the officially entrenched and Tea Party factions of the Republican Party, and key policy disputes between the two camps further fuel discord. Policy cracks in the Republican Congressional conferences emerged during the debt ceiling disputes of 2011, when top House and Senate GOP leaders sought compromise with Democrats but Tea Party types refused to go along. Similar disagreements have emerged over a series of issues including immigration reform, renewal of federal highway funding, tactics for opposing the Affordable Care Act, and now the issue of the renewal of the federal Export-Import Bank.

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The Supreme Court has unanimously struck down a Massachusetts law that created a “buffer zone” around abortion clinics, barring anti-choice protestors from standing within 35 feet of the entrance of reproductive health clinics that provide abortion care. Not surprisingly, this law didn’t go over well with protestors, who claimed that such a zone interfered with their attempts to do what they euphemistically called “counseling” — approaching women that were going into the clinic and harassing them about their medical decisions.

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