The “death” of the tea party has been greatly exaggerated. Five-term Rep. John Sullivan (R-OK) was defeated last night by Jim Bridenstine, a conservative with strong support from local tea party activists. It was the first time in 18 years an incumbent Congressman in Oklahoma had been defeated in a primary.
From Tulsa World:
A 37-year-old lieutenant commander in the Navy Reserve, Bridenstine successfully focused Republican voters’ general frustration with Congress into a direct dissatisfaction with Sullivan, who Bridenstine said had done nothing to distinguish himself in 10 years in office.
Bridenstine also emphasized his academic credentials – degrees from Rice and Cornell universities – and his career as a Navy pilot, and he cultivated older voters with a series of patriotic music concerts and other events.
He hammered at what he said were Sullivan’s excessive missed votes and lack of leadership. Although he catered to disaffected conservatives and tea party Republicans, Bridenstine’s actual policy positions were not much different from Sullivan’s on most issues.
The tea party isn’t simply about having certain conservative positions. A politician can’t simply check a series of boxes. A politician needs to do something with those positions. Yes, the tea party wants conservative principles. But, it also wants action. Sullivan forgot this, but remaining incumbents would do well to learn it.