One of the key indications of whether mainstream Republican spending groups have joined the battle for control of their party will be the crucial budget and deficit negotiations that play out in the coming months. Reporters and political observers should pay close attention to the positions, lobbying activities and any advertisements run by very conservative groups such as the Club for Growth and FreedomWorks as Congress debates the federal budget, the painful package of spending cuts known as the sequester, and the need to once again raise the debt ceiling. Equally crucially, they should watch whether GOP establishment groups begin to fight back, offering contributions or political cover to Congress members who wish to compromise.

As they do so, they should reconsider the faulty “dud” narrative about outside spending that surfaced in the aftermath of November’s vote. Outside money is likely to play a crucial role not only in the coming battles over spending, but in the expensive and hard-fought primaries that will help to shape the future of the Republican Party.

Correction: The initial version of this post incorrectly stated that the Texas Conservatives Fund backed the Tea Party-aligned candidate Ted Cruz in his Senate primary. In fact, the group supported Cruz’s primary opponent, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. The relevant passages of the story have been corrected. CJR regrets the error.

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Sasha Chavkin covers political money and influence for CJR's United States Project, our politics and policy desk. He has written for ProPublica, the Center for Public Integrity, and The New York World. Follow him on Twitter @sashachavkin.