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Why did tea partyers surrender? Because January will be different, they say. (+video)

The government shutdown ended and the debt limit was raised without Republicans getting anything in return. But two things will have changed when the fight resumes next year, tea party lawmakers say.

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But the hardliners held out for a high-stakes fight that Mr. Boehner, reluctantly, adopted as his own. Outside groups such as Heritage Action, the Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks peppered Republicans with notice that key votes on the issue would be “scored,” a thinly veiled threat that members not deemed conservative enough could expect a well-funded primary challenge next year.

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In the runup to the fight, Heritage Action funded $500,000 in online ads calling on 100 House Republicans to “stop funding Obamacare,” that is, to back the tea party’s defund campaign.

After two years of essentially show votes, we “finally had a chance to take on Obamacare,” says tea party Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas. 

The move put Republicans on record in the fight and also forced red-state Democrats to take a vote that could haunt them in 2014 election. But in the end, it stood zero chance of clearing the Democratic-controlled Senate or a White House veto threat.

GOP hardliners and the outside conservative groups supporting them had predicted that, if House Republicans took a stand to defund Obamacare, they would be backed by a surge in public opinion. Such a “popular uprising” would force Senate Democrats to take up the House plan and Mr. Obama to sign it, they said.

Instead, disapproval for how Republicans handled the crisis soared to 74 percent, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll.

On Wednesday, 87 Republicans in the House and 27 in the Senate joined Democrats to fund the government and ease the debt limit. Nine of the 80 House Republicans who had signed a letter in August calling on Boehner to adopt the hardline strategy voted with Democrats to end the shutdown with health-care funding intact. [Editor's note: The original version gave wrong numbers for the vote count.]

As the hardliners see it, their side lost a skirmish in this week’s vote, but they’re fighting a long-range, two-front war: one against health-care reform (a “train wreck”), the other against the Republican Party establishment, especially in the Senate (the "surrender caucus”).

By the next skirmish, many of the 20 House moderates who led the campaign against them, as well as the Senate Republicans who refused to join their fight, could be facing primary challenges from the right, they say.

“We have a lot of primary challenges already filed, and a lot of folks might change their minds if they have primary challenges,” says Representative Huelskamp.

Political handicappers say it’s too early to tell how much of a threat these primary challengers will be.

“I don’t know that opinions will change as much as some of these conservative House members believe they will,” says Jennifer Duffy with the Cook Political Report in Washington. “It’s enormously expensive to get into a Senate race. Ted Cruz ran for two full years.”

But activists on the right do not concede that their moment has passed.

“This battle is still going on,” says Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, which supports tea party candidates. “It will take years to figure out who won and who lost. As long as you have a $17 trillion deficit and Obamacare is falling apart, there’s going to be a political debate.”

“People refer to it as the Republican civil war,” he adds. “But if the Republican Party purges libertarians and tea partyers, all that you hear about this regional party of old white men is going to become true. This is merely a pause as the battle lines continue to roll up.”


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