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Who killed the Tea Party Caucus?
Slate's David Weigel reads the once-buzzy House group its last rites. And now for the autopsy results...
 
Better days: A 2011 Tea Party summit.
Better days: A 2011 Tea Party summit. Jack Kurtz/ZUMA Press/Corbis

"The Tea Party Caucus is dead," declares David Weigel at Slate.

After the GOP's Tea Party–fueled victory in the 2010 election, the House Tea Party Caucus "launched with great fanfare in 2011," and the group was powerful enough to bring "luminaries like Antonin Scalia in to educate Republicans," Weigel says. At its height, the Tea Party Caucus had 60 members. Ten lost their re-election bids in 2012. How many remain? Zero, apparently. "The membership page for the caucus is defunct. The caucus hasn't met since July 2012; it has posted no news since July 2012."

So, who killed the Tea Party Caucus? A few possible culprits...

1. The Republican Party
"Nationally, the Tea Party flag is so tattered that it's not in a Republican's interest to maintain it," says Slate's Weigel. In fact, "the fade of the 'Tea Party Caucus' itself is a positive development for Republicans." The GOP knows it has an image problem — see the party's much-touted rebranding campaign — but "the Tea Party is presently held in lower esteem than the GOP itself," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. Except for "pandering to the base, it simply isn't in the interests of the GOP to emphasize their ties to the movement anymore."

2. Rep. Michele Bachmann
The Minnesota Republican is the founder of the Tea Party Caucus — as she pointed out repeatedly during her 2012 run for the GOP presidential nomination. But "when Bachmann's presidential campaign fell apart, for a lot of reasons specific to her, it damaged the movement," says Weigel. The Tea Party Caucus wasn't very active while she was running for president, either, says Daniel Newhauser at Roll Call. "From June 2011 to January 2012... the group held no public meetings." And since the 2012 election, in which Bachmann almost lost her seat, "she has been keeping a low profile and trying to rebuild her brand in her district; that may have something to do with the group's silence."

3. Tea Party "turncoats"
"Where are the Tea Party Caucus members as Obama drives our nation deeper and deeper into an economic abyss"? says J.B. Williams at NewsWithViews.com. They've sold out to the GOP. Two of the biggest Tea Party stars, Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), "have moved further and further to the left, no longer representing those who placed them in power and becoming more and more just another set of establishment Republicans."

The bottom line is that Tea Party folks made a critical error in their effort to regain control of their runaway government. Instead of electing people they didn't need to control after the election, people with a solid conservative moral compass who would do the right things no matter the odds, they tried to elect politicians that they could control… Now they are learning the hard way that when you elect people you want to control, you can't control them after the election. [NewsWithViews]

4. ObamaCare
"The last meeting announced on the group's website was July 25, when members spoke about the health care overhaul," says Roll Call's Newhauser. And that's no coincidence. Tea Party Caucus members acknowledge that their "activity rises and falls with that of the movement itself and that absent a front-and-center cause such as the health care overhaul to turn their attention to, both groups lose momentum." Here's Rep. John Fleming (R-La.):

The main thing that energized the Tea Party Caucus was the interaction with the tea party groups. Most of that had to do with ObamaCare.... I think that we're all sort of looking for the next opportunity to re-engage on ObamaCare, and we feel convinced there's going to be real good opportunities as this thing is implemented. [Roll Call]

 
Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian, and plays in an Austin rock band.

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