Is What Happened in North Carolina Good for the Tea Party?

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 11.28.26 AMNorth Carolina recently witnessed a “battle royale” between establishment republicans and grassroots opponents that left the GOP candidate the proud victor.

It might seem like Thom Tillis’s victory on May 6th was a blow to the Tea Party and its goals.

But looks are deceiving.

Even though Tillis throttled his two Tea Party opponents by receiving more than 40% of the popular vote, it doesn’t mean that the Tea Party lost on May 6th.

Ever since the rise of the Tea Party, the Republican party has seen a dramatic shift away from endorsing RINOs as it has in years past, and has been invigorated with new blood rising through the ranks.

As Molly Ball of The Atlantic explains:

[I]f Tillis represented the Republican establishment — something he denies, of course; it is not a label anyone embraces — he also represents the party’s new, post-Tea Party mainstream. He was endorsed by National Right to Life and the National Rifle Association. As House speaker during a time when Republicans took over North Carolina’s government for the first time since 1896, he oversaw a dramatic slate of rightward policies, from tax cuts to voter ID, that he terms a “conservative revolution.”

It was hard for opponents to paint Tillis as a liberal when actual liberals were picketing his initiatives on the steps of the statehouse in Raleigh on a regular basis. If this race is any indication, the “Republican civil war” storyline so beloved of pundits in recent years may have to be retired…

Whether the Republican party (or even the Tea Party) are able to recognize this subtle shift, the fact remains the Republican party is beginning to be “co-opted” by the Tea Party’s ideology more and more.

The rise of Republican candidates like Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, who have begun to push back against the left-leaning Republican establishment, makes this plain.

Even though Tea Party candidates might not be winning elections left and right, it doesn’t mean that the values they cling to aren’t being represented by elected officials.

The formation and activism of the Tea Party has altered the political landscape in such a way that even if the Tea Party doesn’t garner a majority of support from their respective voter base, their presence has shown establishment Republicans that they can either “shape-up or ship-out.”