Like it or not, the Tea Party is one of the most powerful entities in American politics. It was the Tea Party that lead the Republican Party to victory in 2010. I believe it is the Tea Party that will help defeat Obama and win back the Senate in 2012. Yet many people think the Tea Party is synonymous with the Republican Party. I'm here to tell you as a card carrying Tea Party member, we aren't the same thing as the GOP.
Let me explain, first and foremost, who the Tea Party is (and is not). We are Americans who are fed up with the way Washington is spending our money (that's right, our money). We believe in the Constitution of the United States and freedom. We believe that the government that governs least governs best. We want the minimal amount of government possible to protect our essential freedoms.
We are not anarchists; we do recognize government is an unfortunate necessity. We are not opposed to taxes, we just want taxes to be kept at the lowest possible level to maintain those freedoms. We are not opposed to a social safety net and programs like unemployment, we just don't want that net to be a hammock. We aren't racist, we are just opposed to a liberal President who just so happens to be black. (We didn't like Lydon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry either, and they were/are white men.) We aren't opposed to some government regulation to protect the consumers from unfair business practices and to maintain legitimate capitalism (i.e. disallowing business trusts) but we are opposed to regulations that cripple businesses (i.e. CAFE standards on automobiles that require technology that doesn't exist yet).
We are also not mainline Republicans. We are, by default, largely registered Republicans, but that's not the same thing as being in line with mainstream GOP values. The Tea Party is a movement of conservatism. (1) The Republican Party is unfortunately not living up to it's conservative history (2). The GOP too often compromises conservative good ideas with liberal bad ideas to ultimately come up with mediocre ideas. The GOP is often far too concerned with being seen as "reasonable" and "compromising" to do the right thing. Take the recent Debt Limit debacle. The Tea Party plan called for $4 Trillion in cuts over 10 years, a sum that Standard and Poors said would prevent a credit rating reduction. The GOP compromised, and the nation was hurt by it. The elected members of the Tea Party fought that compromise. (3)
Make no mistake about it: There are differences between the Tea Party and the GOP. For starters, the Tea Party has many Democrats and Independents in the fold. The common thread is conservatism and Constitutional values. We stand for more than Washington politics as usual. The Republican Party was and is a willing participant in Washington's failures. However, we are not the Republican party...yet.
(1) I am a Conservative, not a Republican
(2) The Real History of Democrats and Republicans
(3) Reactions to the Debt Limit Deal - Assigning Blame