When the Tea Party movement started out, it looked like it might be the beginning of an authentic, grassroots populist uprising. I was skeptical, but interested to see how things would turn out. I did (I still think correctly) reject the notion that it was entirely "astroturf" at the beginning.
The movement fairly quickly became an almost uniformly Republican Party phenomenon. Not especially surprising, and nothing I didn't take occasional public notice of. Apart from a few local mutations that don't seem to have much gas in their tanks (Scott Ashjian in Nevada, the Tea Party slate in Florida), the Tea Party is all Republican all the time.
Where I was wrong was in assuming that it was becoming an almost uniformly Establishment Republican phenomenon.
There were certainly elements of that -- US Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), whose campaign garnered considerable Tea Party support, could easily be the ideological love child of Mike Castle and Dede Scozzafava -- but over time it's become pretty clear that there's little love lost between the Tea Party movement and the GOP Establishment ... that they are, in fact, locked in mortal combat for control of the Republican Party.
Doug Hoffman, the Republican who defected to the Conservative Party in NY-23's special US House election last year, is back in the GOP fold and
Incumbent US Senators Bob Bennett (R-UT) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) lost to Tea Party challengers Mike Lee and Joe Miller in their re-nomination/re-election bids.
A sitting Republican governor, Charlie Crist of Florida, withdrew from the GOP primary for US Senate when it became clear that Tea Party darling Marco Rubio would stomp him in that primary (he's still running, as an independent).
Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle knocked over establishment candidate (former GOP state chair) Sue Lowden in Nevada's US Senate primary.
I don't know whether or not the Tea Party is actually winning this internal GOP power struggle, but they're certainly taking some prominent scalps.
As for the residual "grassroots" claims, they're wearing kind of thin -- the heavy hitters behind much of this Tea Party action are a long-time political consulting firm (Russo, Marsh, and Associates) operating as "Tea Party Express," and FreedomWorks, a thinly disguised lobbying operation masquerading as a "non-profit"* and associated with some very establishment names (Dick Armey, Jack Kemp, Bill Bennett, Steve Forbes).
At this point, the Tea Party looks more like a Republican Party civil war between the existing establishment and a would-be replacement establishment than like a genuine anti-establishment uprising, internal or general. And I can't say I'd want either of those establishments running my life or yours.
But, mea culpa -- I did get it wrong when I evaluated the Tea Party as a pawn of the existing GOP establishment. They've raised considerable hell by proving they're not that!
* NTTAWWT -- a lot of the FreedomWorks agenda points is meat and potatoes "smaller-government" stuff -- but let's not pretend they're the fucking sans-culottes, okay?