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Ted Cruz and Tea Party Victories

Ted Cruz’s win in the Texas Republican senate primary over Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst last night is being hailed as the latest Tea Party coup, a sign the movement is still powerful and influential enough to move elections. Cruz has a lot going for him: he’s young, charismatic, energetic, and a conservative favorite; he’s even been compared to Marco Rubio.

But as Rubio’s own victory showed, just because the Tea Party helps get a candidate elected doesn’t mean it will have an automatic line to Washington. Rubio has stuck to his conservative principles in the Senate, but for the most part he’s played ball with the Republican leadership. He’s not a Michele Bachmann or a Jim DeMint. Ideologically, he’s on par with the average Senate Republican. The same may go for Cruz.

After Cruz’s victory, Sarah Palin (who endorsed him) wrote on Facebook: “Our goal is not just about changing the majority in the Senate. It is about the kind of leadership we want. Ted Cruz represents the kind of strong conservative leadership we want in D.C. Go-along to get-along career politicians who hew the path of least resistance are no longer acceptable at a time when our country is drowning in debt and our children’s futures are at stake.”

If electing a strong conservative candidate was the goal, then the Tea Party had a successful night. But if the goal was as Sarah Palin described it — to elect someone who will clash with the GOP establishment and pick uphill ideological battles — then the jury is still out. After all, Cruz is no stranger to Washington and understands how politics works — he served in the Bush administration, at the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. The Tea Party has proven beyond any doubt that it has the strength and influence to help catapult good candidates into office — but how does it define success after Election Day?