April 11, 2011; Source: Politico | Think of how close the country came to a partial budget shutdown last week. Then think about what would happen if there were more Tea Party-oriented members of the Senate. According to a Politico survey of Republican candidates for Senate seats in 2012, the majority would have rejected the budget deal negotiated by House Speaker Boehner and Majority Senate Leader Reid, undoing the compromise that passed the Senate by a voice vote early Saturday morning.

Only two of the candidates said they would have supported the agreement – “a minuscule step . . . in the right direction” according to one – though none of the budget-naysayers would explicitly come out in favor of shutting down the government. Some candidates dodged the Politico survey, notably Virginia’s George Allen and New Mexico’s Heather Wilson, both having to balance their Tea Party constituencies with the independent wing of the party.

The nonprofit infrastructure that supports the Tea Party movement’s most extreme fiscal positions, notably FreedomWorks, is doing its best to keep the Tea Party movement alive when some people might think that it has lost some of its oomph going into 2012. The problem for the Tea Party candidates, besides simply getting elected as the economic picture brightens over the next year or two, is how to distinguish itself from a Republican Party that some Tea Partiers think is too moderate and conciliatory.

It is a fine line FreedomWorks walks. It uses the salutation, “Dear Tea Party Activist,” in its communiqués, but also has to remember that the upcoming general elections will be dominated by independents increasingly dissatisfied with both extreme wings.—Rick Cohen