On the surface, it doesn't seem like Donald Trump has much in common with Tea Partiers.
The businessman and former reality TV star is a New Yorker, not a heartland conservative. He isn't dismissive of religion, but he's quite possibly the most irreligious nominee in Republican history. He's a supporter of the Second Amendment, but he's not exactly a gun guy. He's clearly liberal on the social issues that get the conservative base riled up, speaking in favor of transgender rights and gay marriage.
And yet Trump owes the success of his candidacy, at least in part, to the Tea Party, and its disruptive impact on the Republican party.
Republicans who support the real estate mogul tell The Atlantic that they're tired of a reactionary Republican leadership, of a Republican Party defined mostly by its opposition to President Barack Obama's policies and futile attempts to block the president's most ambitious plans, like Obamacare.
In Trump, they see a candidate who can lift the party from its doldrums and finally take action on subjects like border security and trade deficits, issues that Republicans have failed to address for years.
“People like the idea that Trump can actually do something — get the wall built, get the trade deals redone — because they’re seeing not a lot get done by the current administration and D.C.,” Sarah Chamberlain, president of Indiana's Freedom Caucus, told The Atlantic.
The Tea Party set the stage for a Trump candidacy, even though the Republican nominee doesn't share the same goals or priorities as the prominent Tea Partiers who were swept into office beginning in 2010. It was the Tea Party that first focused voter dissatisfaction with Republican leaders, putting them on notice that they would not accept the status quo anymore.
Ultimately, that effort failed. Led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, the Tea Party wing of the Republicans forced the 2013 government shutdown in an unsuccessful attempt to block Obamacare. That stunt cost the U.S. economy a staggering $20 billion, according to Bloomberg, and it made the already-unpopular Cruz one of the most hated figures of the Republican party.
The Tea Party, it turned out, couldn't manage the U.S. government or handle Democrats any better than the long-time Republican leaders the Tea Partiers raged against.
On the right, dissatisfaction on key issues remained, but voters lost confidence in Tea Party-backed politicians after their repeated failures to deliver any substantive victories. Worse, the Tea Party's gambits backfired with the disastrous, Cruz-led government shutdown cited as the primary reason the GOP's favorability ratings tanked in polls.
Enter Donald Trump, the new savior conservatives could pin their hopes on. The Tea Party had cleared the path, and now Trump is walking it.
Of course, Trump's rise can't be credited entirely to any one movement or moment. Some point to the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in 2011, when Obama famously tore into Trump, as a pivotal moment that inspired the businessman to get serious about politics.
Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, best known for heading John McCain's failed 2008 White House bid, blames conservative talk radio for undermining conservative elitists like William F. Buckley Jr.
“The tone is disgusting around our political discourse,” Schmidt told MSNBC's Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow. “You look at the intellectual collapse of the conservative movement, the fading of giants such as William F. Buckley, the replacement of purveyors of blogs and polemics... it’s all collapsed.”
Obama himself blames the media for Trump's rise, as the BBC notes. Tone-deaf conservative columnists like Cal Thomas blame "career politicians, the lobbyists, the lawyers [and] the self-serving institution that government has become" for Trump's success.
But none of it would have been possible if the Tea Party hadn't struck the first blow, weakening the Republican establishment and proving that the party's traditional leaders didn't have an unbreakable grip on power. Like the famed Roman general Pompey Magnus, who was known for opportunistically sweeping in and claiming credit for victories earned by other generals, Trump recognized the opening the Tea Party had created for him and took advantage of it.
If people are dead-set on assigning blame for the businessman's rise as a political force, the Tea Party is certainly responsible for a big part of it, but pretty much no one in politics is blameless.