"It is time to think differently about the Tea Party," said Darrell West, a political scientist at the Brookings Institution. "In the early days, the Tea Party was basically a grassroots movement, didn't have a lot of prominent people behind them, didn't have a lot of money. But now they have big money. They can bring outside resources into a state election, and prove to be very decisive. So they are getting institutionalized as a movement: They have major political figures who are behind them; they have money that is behind them. So they have emerged as a different type of 'establishment' organization."
Other races this year in which Tea Party-backed candidates have defeated better-known politicians include the victory of state Sen. Deb Fisher in a three-way primary in Nebraska, and the primary defeat of six-term GOP incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar at the hands of state Treasurer Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
"He was the man versus Dewhurst, who's part of the machine, the establishment there in Texas and in Washington, D.C.," said Sarah Palin on Tuesday night's episode of "On the Record with Greta Van Susteren." "He was the outsider to come in and promise that reform."
Yet Cruz was no ordinary Tea Party figure, and few people's idea of a Beltway outsider. He attended Harvard University's law school and founded a Latino law review there; clerked at the U.S. Supreme Court for Chief Justice William Rehnquist; worked at two federal agencies in Washington, the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission, under President George W. Bush; and is married to a woman who works for Goldman Sachs.
More important to his electoral fortunes, Cruz received critical endorsements and millions of dollars' worth of contributions and other forms of support from the likes of Gov. Palin, who campaigned for him; Tea Party hero and fundraising powerhouse Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.; the D.C.-based Tea Party group FreedomWorks, which is led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey; the anti-tax, pro-free market group Club for Growth, whose top executive is former Rep. Chris Chocola, R-Pa.; conservative columnist and ABC News commentator George F. Will; and National Review, the venerated magazine founded by the late William F. Buckley, Jr. --J. Rosen.