WASHINGTON — Tea partyers insist they're not to blame for Republican election losses in congressional and presidential elections, faulting the GOP establishment for showing little fight.
This election year, the establishment is fighting — against the tea party insurgents challenging incumbents who the Republican Party is convinced stand a far better chance in November.
The internal GOP showdown will be decided in primaries starting Tuesday in Texas and stretching through the year in Kentucky, Mississippi, Kansas, Michigan and elsewhere. Burned by losses in winnable Senate races in 2010 and 2012, establishment Republicans are aggressively challenging this year's class of tea party-backed candidates.
Tea partyers, dismissing reports of their demise, say they're ready to use their unbending political force against both President Barack Obama and the Republican establishment.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, a superstar to the movement and a potential 2016 presidential candidate, says he's hopeful and optimistic that "we're going to turn this country around."
Hundreds gathered Thursday as the Tea Party Patriots, one of the major grassroots groups, marked the movement's fifth anniversary at a Washington celebration that toasted everything anti-Washington.
They stood and applauded wildly for Cruz, who precipitated the 16-day partial government shutdown last fall with his opposition to Obama's health care law, and warmly received two other tea party senators, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.
Tea partyers, who helped Republicans capture control of the House in 2010, made clear they don't like what the GOP establishment has done to their conservative agenda of limited government, free-market policies and what they consider fidelity to the Constitution. They signaled they will work hard to elect their uncompromising candidates no matter what the establishment does.
In Kansas, the Tea Party Express endorsed Milton Wolf, who is opposing three-term Sen. Pat Roberts in the Republican primary.
Cruz, who has helped raise money for groups targeting incumbent Republicans, has refused to endorse his state's senior senator, John Cornyn, the Senate's second-ranking Republican, in Tuesday's primary. Cornyn faces Rep. Steve Stockman.
"Liberals fight every step," said Steve Gibson of Columbus, Ohio. Establishment Republicans, he said, say, "we can't win, we might as well not fight."
Gibson said he had offered to help Matt Bevin, the Republican businessman challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell, according to Gibson, is conservative 70 percent of the time, but then "throwing in the towel every time."
Gibson was particularly upset with McConnell's recent votes on allowing the nation to borrow more money.
Keli Carender, national grassroots coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, said the strength of the group was reflected in the $1.2 million and counting that it raised in 10 days.
To the "establishment and permanent political class," Carender said, "we don't need their millions; we've got our own."
Republicans blame the tea party for losses in winnable races in 2010 and 2012 in Colorado, Nevada, Delaware and Indiana that many believe cost the GOP a Senate majority.
As evidence of the party's tough tactics, a political deal was engineered in Colorado. Tea party-affiliated Ken Buck, who lost a close Senate race in 2010, stepped aside to run for the House while more mainstream Rep. Cory Gardner launched a Senate bid.
As Rob Collins, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said this week: "We're not anti-conservative. We're just anti-people-who-can't-win."