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Welcome back, Tea Party Caucus

At its height, the Tea Party Caucus in Congress had 60 members, an engaged activist base, and the attention of the national media. Two years later, the Tea
Welcome back, Tea Party Caucus
Welcome back, Tea Party Caucus

At its height, the Tea Party Caucus in Congress had 60 members, an engaged activist base, and the attention of the national media. Two years later, the Tea Party Caucus was literally a non-entity -- it was holding no meetings, it had no agenda, and its membership had dwindled to zero.

But far-right lawmakers hope to get the band back together. The goal was to launch the new-and-improved Tea Party Caucus on April 15 -- Tax Day, naturally -- and though conservatives missed their own deadline, it's nevertheless been reconstituted.

Roughly 20 House Republicans attended a closed-door meeting Thursday evening in the Rayburn House Office Building, along with staffers from nearly 40 congressional offices, including those of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and fellow Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul. [...]Conservative mainstays such as Reps. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Tom Price (R-Ga.), Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Steve King (R-Iowa) were among those at the meeting. A source said the entire GOP House delegation from South Carolina was there as well.

The group will be led, of course, by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), despite her increasingly serious ethics controversies.

The caucus' private meeting was at least well attended -- it didn't have quite as many lawmakers as two years ago, but RNC Chairman Reince Priebus set his chief of staff, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent a representative, and activists affiliated with a variety of Tea Party groups were on hand for the secret discussions.

Interestingly enough, there were no senators in attendance, though Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) had agreed to attend, before being called away at the last minute.

As for what the caucus intends to actually do in this Congress, that's a tougher question to answer.

It appears their main goal is to push congressional Republicans to be as far-right as possible -- or at least keep it as conservative as it is now -- to the frustration of House GOP leaders who occasionally see value in passing laws.

Indeed, I found it interesting that I only saw one big press release about the Tea Party Caucus 2.0 this week, and it was from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which seemed thrilled to welcome the caucus back.

While national Republicans continue to experience recruitment failures and find themselves struggling to avoid bruising primaries in key states, the return of the Tea Party Caucus threatens to create even more turmoil for a party that promised to avoid the same mistakes it made in 2012. The Tea Party Caucus that brought the Republican Party legendary Senate candidates like Todd Akin in 2012 is back and pushing candidates that Karl Rove doesn't want and could lead to more inter-party mayhem in 2014."The Tea Party Caucus is back and it looks like a who's who of Republican Senate candidates. Despite promising things would be different, national Republicans have thus far failed to avoid the same fights that plagued them in 2012, and are stuck watching helplessly as the Tea Party Caucus makes a comeback and pushes more Todd Akin's to run for Senate," said Justin Barasky, a spokesman at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. "The NRSC and Karl Rove promised their big donors they would hand pick better Senate candidates to avoid repeats of the disasters from the likes of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock but their DC-based, top-down, anti-Tea Party campaign to recruit establishment candidates isn't convincing the GOP base."With polls showing 70% of Americans view the Republican Party as "out of touch," the GOP establishment made a much publicized effort to rebrand by attempting to reign in right-wing lawmakers on Capitol Hill and moderate their party. But with the help of the Tea Party Caucus, and much to the dismay of national Republicans, many of their potential Senate candidates this cycle are looking a lot like Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and Sharron Angle.

Looking ahead, if the Tea Party Caucus is going to have any practical, real-world impact at all, it's probably going to be one that exacerbates the electoral tension between the Republican establishment and the Republican base. Note that some of the caucus' highest-profile members -- Paul Broun, Steve King, Bill Cassidy, and Phil Gingrey -- are also radical Senate candidates that may struggle to win a statewide general election.

Is it any wonder Democrats seem so pleased? Could there be a better way to step on the Republican re-branding campaign than the reemergence of Tea Partiers on Capitol Hill?