When Texas Representative Steve Stockman announced he would run for the U.S. Senate, back in December, pundits girded for a doozy of a fight. The senator who Stockman was challenging in the Republican primary, John Cornyn, had a Tea Party target on his back for his lack of enthusiasm for last fall's government shutdown and for failing to embrace the Tea Party as head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee back in 2010. Stockman's public persona has long been more Internet troll than public servant—he had campaign bumper stickers that read, "If babies had guns they wouldn't be aborted"; recently, his spokesman responded to Karl Rove's support for Cornyn by observing, "Karl Rove looks like an elderly baby." Yet, as a two-term member of Congress, Stockman was more qualified on paper than the Tea Party Senate nominees of yore (remember semi-professional Bill Maher guest Christine O'Donnell?).
In the past, these ingredients—a right-wing gadfly without portfolio plus an incumbent who toed the Washington line—were all that was needed for an incumbent-rousting Tea Party win. But that's not how the Texas primary went down. Stockman ran a bizarre campaign, barely raising money or making public appearances. His strategy seemed to consist of his weird tweets and a bunch of possibly illegal newspaper-style campaign mailers. It was enough to make one wonder if perhaps his whole "political" "career" was an Andy Kaufman-style performance-art piece, a meditation on the nature of representation and the ontology of assault rifles. Cornyn, meanwhile, tacked hard to the right, straining to emulate his junior partner in the Texas delegation, Senator Ted Cruz, winner of the hardest-fought Tea Party-vs.-Establishment battle of 2012. (Cruz, despite being an official of the senatorial committee, refused to endorse Cornyn.)