Mourdock's win-then-loss epitomized the tea party's steep decline, but he was far from the only GOP candidate who sacrificed victory at the altar of ideology. Rep. Allen West, running in a swing district in Florida, spent time speculating about how many communists there might be in Congress. (Eighty-one, in case you were wondering.) When asked about his feelings on abortion, Rep. Joe Walsh, running in a Democratic-leaning, suburban Chicago district, insisted that "there is no such exception as life of the mother." (He lost by nine points.) And a tea party heroine and former presidential hopeful, Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.), was re-elected by just over 4,000 votes against an unheralded Democratic challenger in a suburban Twin Cities district that leans heavily Republican.
The tea party didn't catch a single break in Election 2012. Take Missouri, where the defeat of Todd "legitimate rape" Akin in the Senate race was laid at the feet of the tea party. The problem with that theory? The major tea party groups had backed Akin's primary opponents; he won on the strength of his support among social conservatives.
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Beset by challenges on all sides, the tea party needed a leader. Instead, in early September, it got an attempted armed coup — a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction scenario in which former Texas congressman Richard Armey tried to seize control of FreedomWorks, a pillar of the movement. (Armey brought an aide with a handgun holstered at his hip to the FreedomWorks headquarters as he attempted to take over. And no, that is not a joke.)
Armey's mission came up short — he took $8 million to part ways with the organization (not a bad consolation prize) — but that it happened at all exposed the tea party's fractures to a wide audience.