So far, the tea party has managed to emerge as a quixotic, if amorphous, force largely focused on economic issues, but imbued by strains of past xenophobic movements and simmering with culture war issues like "God, guns, and gays," says Professor Watson. Before the November election, USA Today columnist DeWayne Wickham predicted that these views spelled its doom. "Left alone, there's a good chance that the tea party will sputter out of existence as quickly as the Know-Nothing movement did," he wrote last September.
But in a poll released on Monday, the Gallup organization found that the tea party has moved toward the mainstream of the political debate, reporting that 71 percent of Americans said the Republican party should take tea party positions into account when crafting new policy.
Many Democrats still hope the tea partyers can be sidelined, and would gladly see Republicans nominate more candidates in the Sharron Angle and Christine O'Donnell vein – two tea party-backed candidates who won Republican primaries but failed to muster enough votes in Nevada and Delaware general elections for the US Senate.