The days after the 2012 election were dark ones for the tea party. Most of their candidates lost, Tea Party Caucus chairwoman Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) barely held on and then faced ethics questions, and polling showed the tea party brand to be deeply tarnished. Things had gotten so bad that some groups in California wanted to drop "tea party" from their names.
At the national headquarters of Tea Party Patriots, one of the largest umbrella groups, head Jenny Beth Martin presided over empty desks and dwindling volunteer and donor rolls. It was "frightening," she tells the Wall Street Journal in a new profile of the conservative grass-roots leader out today.
Then, like a ray of sunlight piercing through the clouds, came the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) scandal and the perception (that later turned out to be largely false) that the tax agency politically targeted tea party groups. "From that moment, the tea party has roared back to life," Martin told the Journal. Soon, her staff doubled, donations tripled, and she now has to subsist on three hours of sleep most nights just to keep up with work and media requests for interviews.