Tea Party's shock win not sign of a revival
THE Tea Party keeps jolting American politics, with Republicans struggling on Wednesday to grasp implications of the ouster of one of their political masters who, despite his stature, failed to crush an insurrection from within.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's loss in Virginia's Republican primary a day earlier to a virtual unknown, Tea Party-backed economics professor Dave Brat, was a Grade-A political bombshell, the biggest shockwave to course through Congress in years.
Whether the upset in a single congressional district can re-energise a conservative grassroots movement thought to be on the ropes this year remains a debate among analysts.
But ousting a majority leader from within his own ranks is rare, and the reverberations have jolted Washington, where Republicans have been seeking a united front in opposing policies of President Barack Obama.
"This election should be a reminder to all in Congress - Republicans and Democrats alike - that the conservative base is alive and well," crowed Senator Ted Cruz, widely seen as the congressional flagbearer of the movement.
Mr Cantor, 51, was waiting in the wings to eventually take the top job from House Speaker John Boehner, who had worked at length to tamp down the various conservative uprisings that bubbled since 2010, when an anti-incumbency wave brought dozens of Tea Party-backed candidates into Congress.
Instead of continuing on course, Mr Cantor will resign his leadership post on July 31, while the Republican Party's most conservative faction licks its lips at the prospect of finally winning a precious spot in leadership.
But a single battle victory does not win a civil war.
The anti-tax, small-government Tea Party movement has actually lost the vast majority of primary challenges against Republican incumbents it has made this election cycle.
"The establishment is winning, and winning quite consistently", with research showing the Tea Party "is not doing that well in national terms", said John Hudak, an expert at The Brookings Institution, a Washington think-tank.
Mr Cantor may have proved the Tea Party movement can still take down trophy prey, but "I think drawing lessons about what it means for Republicans generally is a bit overstated", Mr Hudak added.