By Paul Kane
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — The Republican establishment went into last week’s off-year elections believing that the Tea Party insurrectionists who have ripped apart the GOP in recent years would suffer enough damage to force them into some kind of retreat. But no one thinks that happened.
The expectation now is that the long-running internal battle for the soul of the party will continue deep into next year and beyond, possibly harming prospects at the polls in 2014 and 2016.
Rather than the humiliating defeats the establishment had expected, Tea Party candidates suffered narrow losses Tuesday despite being outgunned by opponents with far deeper financial pockets. In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli II, the tea-party-aligned attorney general and GOP nominee for governor, lost by just 2.5 percentage points after polls had predicted a Democratic rout.
“Had we not had the shutdown, Cuccinelli would have won,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who beat back a 2012 primary challenge and has emerged as a leading critic of the Tea Party.
In Alabama, a tea-party-backed House candidate with a minimal grasp of important policy issues almost survived the six-figure media campaign launched against him by the business wing of the GOP. He lost to a well-known former state senator by fewer than 4,000 votes.
“I think the Tea Party remains very formidable. I mean, the business community weighed in heavily on the side of the state senator,” said Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He described the establishment response to the Alabama race as a “sigh of relief [rather] than an expression of victory.”
Some Tea Party lawmakers said the results merely showed that they need more kindred spirits on Capitol Hill to take that fight to President Barack Obama and the Democrats. “I think we need more leaders in Washington with the courage to stand for principle,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, the main lawmaker behind the government shutdown strategy, told reporters Wednesday.