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Sunday, Apr 22, 2018
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About that tea party obituary

Not that anybody’s keeping score, but about a week ago in the Tribune’s bi-weekly feature we call “Faceoff,” Joe Henderson and I argued over whether there is a future for the tea party, and if so what that future would look like. The results have begun rolling in.

One of us expressed appreciation for tea partiers’ passion, but regretted their unwillingness to be satisfied with half or even three-quarters of a loaf, in the spirit of old-fashioned political horse-trading where everybody gets something. Long story short, one of us forecast doom for tea partiers if they continue to stake out extreme positions and resist compromise.

The other — *blush* — pointed out that few Republicans, even those in the so-called “establishment,” are running this year on anything that could be described as anathema to the tea party, nor should they. Not only do tea partiers have superior enthusiasm — artificially throttled, one of us noted, by the IRS’s deliberate and by all indications illegal targeting of their attempts to get tax-exempt status — they also have, on spending, taxes, immigration, free markets, crony capitalism and gun rights, the superior arguments.

Since then, a tea-party-backed candidate beat a 30-year incumbent senator in a primary in Mississippi and seems to have the momentum going into their June 24 runoff, and Tuesday in Virginia, in the biggest upset in a primary maybe ever, college economics professor and tea party favorite David Brat drubbed House Majority Leader Eric Cantor by 10 points.

How much of Brat’s win is attributable to Democratic mischief — Virginia is an open primary state, allowing voters to choose which party’s primary to vote in (Democrats didn’t put up a challenger in the district) — and how much was simply a rejection of GOP and congressional business as usual is a topic that promises to be hotly debated from now until November’s Election Day.

No matter what, however, the idea that the tea party was a brash fad that America got over with in a hurry has been rebuffed by events. And how. Attention, it seems, still must be paid, and that’s a good thing.