[NOTE: This post is sort of a follow-up to this one.]
There are two competing strains that run through the Republican party–they are sometimes called “fiscal conservatism” and “social conservatism”, “Christianity” and “Libertarianism”. I prefer to use the terms “materialism” and “nationalism”.
The nationalist strain, which is the one most people call socially conservative, sees America as declining, thanks largely to the decadent liberals who do not strive to preserve its greatness and who dissolve its culture. They believe the U.S. is, by Divine Providence, the greatest on the Earth, and it is their darkest fear that the godless liberals will bring it down into merely “another country”.
The nationalist strain seeks a return to national greatness, which they believe existed from roughly 1776 until the early 1900s. It was at that point, they seem to believe, that liberal decadence first emerged, though it only became really obvious in the 1960s, with the counterculture and anti-war movement.
The nationalist wish for national greatness means restoring the old institutions and social norms. They also wish to increase the role of Christianity in the country. (As an aside, it is fitting that one of the most beloved figures among the nationalists is the Mormon radio personality Glenn Beck. Mormonism neatly ties American nationalism in with Christian religious texts.)
Materialism, meanwhile, is more like what we call Libertarianism or even Objectivism. The materialistic world view cares little for the nation except insofar as it is able to enrich the individual. Materialism has no interest in social issues or the Religion in the country except as to how it relates to their profits.
These two strains coexist, ultimately, within each individual member of the Republican party. Oh, there are some who believe almost exclusively in nationalism, such as Pat Buchanan followers, and some who are purely materialist, such as Ayn Rand followers. But more often, a Republican will lean nationalist on one issue and materialist on another.
What are we to make of the Tea Party, then? It is, in my view, a movement whose rank-and-file members are largely motivated by a nationalist outlook, but primarily funded by behind-the-scenes materialists.
Now, this is in fact the same situation which has existed in the Republican party for decades. As such, it seems clear that the Tea Party is not a third party, as some think, but rather a rebranding of the Republican party.
These two strains are currently united against Democrats, but will probably come into conflict if they achieve victory in this year’s midterm elections. What remains to be seen is which force will prove stronger.