Answer by Jim Durbin, social media headhunter and strategist:
It's a big question, so I'll unpack it into three areas.
Perception in the media:
As a Tea Party Republican, I get to see the impact of the media on a close and personal level.
People that know me—those who sit down and talk with me or engage me in political discussion—don't seem to hate me. They don't see my viewpoints as radical. They don't insult me personally, and they don't insult me casually as they go about their day.
People who first meet me online or who hear about the Tea Party from the media have a very different view of me. As I'm the same person, there is clearly some disconnect. My political statements are the same. My principles and my voting record are unchanged, but the difference between the perception of who I am from the media and who I am in real life couldn't be more opposite.
View from moderate or establishment Republicans:
Most Tea Partiers are conservative, but not all conservatives are Tea Partiers. We're also not identified as social or religious conservatives, although a large number of Tea Partiers fit in both those camps.
As a Tea Party Republican, which means I vote Republican but don't think much of the party, I see that the Republicans are glad to have us in the voting booth but not interested in anything we have to say. In 2009-10, Tea Partiers went after Democrats because they had absolute power in Washington, and we felt they threatened the entire system with statist government typified by too much spending. After first being the only ones to stand up, and then winning a great victory, it was sobering to find out that many Republicans paid only lip service to the idea of smaller government.
So we started going after the Republicans who said one thing and did another. Third parties don't traditionally do well, so we began the long and slow process of remaking the Republican Party into its stated goals of building a limited government that functions within constitutional limits.
They hate us for that, because we're taking away their meal ticket. It's a good gig to be a "conservative" Republican with a lifetime appointment from a safe district but living in Washington. It's also anti–everything the Tea Party stands for.
We get the satisfaction of being right:
There is only one group of people willing to state the obvious—this country is living on borrowed prosperity. Our economic growth is anemic. Our government is too powerful. And it can't continue.
Printing money, expanding entitlements, winning debt ceiling fights—those are all distractions, because the math behind our liabilities is greater than any political speech or series of elections.
The core of the Tea Party support believes that if we do not cut our reliance on big government, the resulting chaos when the system fails will be more painful than the cuts themselves. So when we fight against legislation or a candidate, it's with the knowledge that the battle is not simply over priorities, but survival.
Something that can't go on forever won't. Debts that cannot be paid won't. Promises that can't be kept won't.
There is always a reckoning. Some of us are just dumb enough to believe the American people deserve to be warned.
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