In last night's Illinois gubernatorial primary, an overwhelming majority of Republican voters cast their ballots for someone other than Adam Andrzejewski, a Tea Party-backed insurgent who had won an endorsement from, of all people, Polish Nobel laureate Lech Walesa. As political blogger Dave Weigel points out, this really shouldn't be considered too much of a death blow to the movement given that Rep. Mark Kirk, the GOP candidate in the other major statewide race, has courted the Tea Party vote himself. But it does underscore an often overlooked point: There's an important distinction between the candidates who benefit from anti-incumbent Tea Party fervor and those who actually embody the "movement."
For a couple of examples, look no further than Massachusetts, where Scott Brown's special election victory was hailed as a triumph for the Tea Party. While Brown did capitalize on people's frustrations with Washington, the whole Tea Party bit, as our own Kevin Drum explains, was overblown. To the extent that the Tea Party represents any coherent philosphy, Brown doesn't fit the label. He supports the concept of universal health care (he even voted for it once), in fundamental conflict with the movement's anti-government underpinnings. He's also pro-choice and supportive of civil unions. Normally that would earn him a primary challenge, not endorsements from the likes of Ralph Reed and Sarah Palin.