The Tea Party, never an actual party so much as a brand name and a pick-and-choose list of conservative values, has launched a semi-organized push to oust the Republican Party's congressional leadership. It's not going well, but that hasn't stopped the Tea Party before. 2014 is set up as a test of the brand's fundraising clout as much as its political strength.
The New York Times thinks the current Republican rebellion might be the most significant against sitting leadership since 1938. The Senate Minority Leader and Minority whip are facing primary opponents, as are the House Speaker, Majority Leader, and a number of established incumbents. "[W]hat is startling to Republicans this year is the sheer number of candidates who are willing to take on the party’s most powerful players in Washington," the Times' Jeremy Peters writes, "and the backing they are receiving from third-party groups." Those groups include Tea Party-named groups like the Tea Party Patriots and other outside organizations like the Senate Conservatives Fund. The groups haven't yet spent much money on the races, as the Daily Caller reported earlier this month.
While the Tea Party has been bubbling within the Republican ranks for several years, it appears that this year has become a tipping point in part because the GOP leadership has realized the futility in trying to manage the Tea Partiers' more extreme positions. The Wall Street Journal, which considers 2014 to be a "test of the Tea Party's clout," quotes Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: "We're done being the stupid party," he reportedly said at a fundraiser. While staffers wouldn't confirm those exact words, they said "it was consistent with the senator's view that 'we're done nominating candidates who can't win general elections.'"