For Democrats, the tea party is the gift that keeps on giving. For Republicans, the group is something akin to a flesh-eating virus that threatens to chomp away at the GOP.
The civil war between establishment and tea-party Republicans intensified this week when House Speaker John Boehner slammed outside conservative groups for "ridiculous" pushback against the bipartisan budget agreement, which cleared his chamber Thursday. Tea-party-sympathetic organizations, Boehner later said, are "pushing our members in places where they don't want to be."
Washington insiders agree. Sixty-five percent of Republican influencers on the Hill called tea-party challengers to Republican lawmakers "very unhelpful" to the GOP, according to a National Journal Political Insiders poll published Friday. Their presence on the campaign trail leads to further splintering of the Grand Old Party, whose widening rift between establishment and tea-party members has not gone unnoticed by both Democratic opponents and the general public. "Let's shoot at the opposition, not our own troops," one Insider pleaded. "Most Republicans think they're idiots," said another.
On the other hand, 78 percent of Democratic Insiders find tea-party challengers to be "very helpful." Democrats depend on ultraconservatives candidates like Steve Stockman, who is taking great pains to label his Republican opponent for a Senate seat in Texas, Sen. John Cornyn, a liberal. For them, a divided Republican party means more legroom for Democratic candidates to sweep voters fed up with ideological debates.
Political figures like Stockman do the job of dragging the national Republican image away from the mainstream—and voters—for the Democrats. With midterm elections more than 10 months away, there's still time for more tea-party challengers to step up to the podium and exacerbate the situation. "For every Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, you get five Ken Bucks and Todd Akins," said one insider in the poll.
Come next November, the biggest tea-party supporters could be the liberals they want to squash. "We should be forming independent-expenditure committees and super PACs to support any tea partier interested in taking on Republican incumbents," joked a Democratic Insider. Another summed up simply, "Thank you, Steve Stockman."