What the Tea Party Actually Does

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Dave Weigel makes the point that the Tea Party’s success or failure should be judged not just on whom they get elected (or don’t), but to what degree they are able to influence sitting Senators with the specter of a primary challenge. John McCain is a test case in how to survive: plunge right and go for the jugular. The soft-spoken, congenial Bob Bennett wasn’t so fortunate. However one counts your Christine O’Donnell spoilers or your Rand Paul victories in the general, the mere existence of the primary threat can affect decision-making in Congress. That takes us to Erick Erickson over at Red State, who has just unveiled his most sought-after Senate scalps for 2012:

John Barasso (WY)
Scott Brown (MA)
Bob Corker (TN)
John Ensign (NV)
Orrin Hatch (UT)
Kay Bailey Hutchison (TX)
Jon Kyl (AZ)
Richard Lugar (IN)
Olympia Snowe (ME)
Roger Wicker (MS)

Hatch knows all too well what can happen in Utah. Same goes for Kyl in Arizona. Heck, Scott Brown knows the Tea Party can move the needle in Massachusetts because that’s how he got elected in the first place.  Primarying Brown or Olympia Snowe is not going to help Republicans hold seats in the northeast. But if they feel a Tea Party challenge nipping at their heels for two years, they might rethink a vote or two. And that’s the point of the whole endeavor in the first place, right?