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Tea Party Extremist Joe Miller Wins GOP Nomination For Senate

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The way things are shaping up, a handful of extremists backed by the Tea Party movement could be taking seats in the U.S. Senate come January. The latest addition to the growing cabal is Joe Miller, to whom Sen. Lisa Murkowski conceded the Republican nomination last night.

With his extreme positions, Miller finds much in common with fellow Tea Party insurgent candidates for Senate Sharron Angle of Nevada and Rand Paul of Kentucky. Like Angle, he wants to phase out Social Security, eliminate the Department of Education, and opposes abortion in all circumstances, posting on his Web site, "I am unequivocally pro-life and life must be protected from the moment of conception to the time of natural death.  The family is the foundation of a free society."

While Angle, Paul and Miller are the most extreme of the Tea Party-for-Senate candidates, the rest of the Tea Party field are more right-wing than the establishment G.O.P. (difficult, I know, to contemplate). They include Ken Buck of Colorado, Mike Lee of Utah, Marco Rubio of Florida, and Linda McMahon of Connecticut. In all but the Connecticut race, the Tea Party candidates are either leading or nipping at the heels of their Democratic opponents.

There's much to be learned from the Tea Party insurgency, but the foremost lesson is that it doesn't take a majority to control the political dynamic, or to amass power. Even in Tea Party-friendly areas, Tea Party candidates are not necessarily natural fits for the region in which they gain nominations. It's all about gaming the system. (David Weigel offers a great primer at Slate on how this happened in Alaska.)

The same principle is likely to apply in the Senate if this handful of Tea Partiers makes it in. The whole game has been to undermine the power of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell: that's why the Kentucky race was targeted by the dons of Tea Party Inc., as I call them -- the big institutional players such as FreedomWorks, Americans For Prosperity and their man in the Senate, Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Togther with Tea Party Express (the spawn of a PAC run by Howard Kagoolian, the man behind the recall of former California Gov. Grey Davis) and DeMint's Senate Conservatives Fund. Kentucky is McConnell's home state, and Rand Paul was not his candidate.

The Senate primaries targeted by the Tea Party movement focused on the defeat of candidates endorsed by McConnell. What these big players intend to do is to simultaneously weaken McConnell while seating a cabal that can become a new power center in the Senate -- a small group to which McConnell with have to bow for fear of more of the same in the next election.

These people are serious about ending Social Security, and about defeating any energy reform legislation. They're already plotting ways of repealing the health-care reform legislation that passed into law last spring.

Poke all the fun at them you want: they're playing for all the marbles, and they just might win.