The more I study the political history of the United States, the more obvious it is to me that regionalism has played and continues to play a significant role. This is not so much a case of Red States vs. Blue States but of regions that cross state lines, and in some cases do not even dominate a particular state. (For example, electoral maps from the last election show solidly Democratic territory in the Midwest in counties bordering the Mississippi River, even in conservative states like Iowa.)
That regionalism can do a lot to explain the Tea Party. Earlier this year many pundits (and establishment Republicans) announced its demise, but recent events show that in certain parts of the country, the Tea Party is still going strong. Most who follow politics are aware of how Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel has been giving the plenty conservative Thad Cochran the fight of his life in Mississippi. Less commented upon, but of perhaps greater significance, in the Texas Lieutenant Governor race Tea Party favorite Dan Patrick beat incumbent David Dewhurst. In Texas this typically symbolic office is actually very important, and considering that Texas is effectively a one-party state, immense power will soon be wielded by a man who calls himself "a Christian first."
At the same time, Tea Party nominees are practically absent in the Northeast and Midwest, while those making waves hail from the South and West. This is actually part of a much older story in the Republican Party where those regions have been the engine of the GOP's shift to the hard right. Goldwater came from Arizona, Reagan from California, Jesse Helms from North Carolina, Strom Thurmond from South Carolina, Newt Gingrich from Georgia, etc. The population shift to the Sun Belt in the past 50 years has helped make Republicans from that region dominant in the party, and has also amplified their presence in the House of Representatives, with states like Texas and Florida now sending huge delegations.
There is a strange irony, of course, in the fact that the two regions that are the most Tea Party-centric are also the regions that rely the most on government support. Through the TVA, agriculture subsidies, and various other projects and giveaways, FDR sought to economically develop and modernize the South. World War II and the Cold War brought oodles of bases and dollars to both regions, now crisscrossed by Interstate highways. The federal government built up the infrastructure in both places, and then they very deftly used "right to work" laws and low wages to lure Northern companies down there that could now actually do business with the more modernized infrastructure in place. Moreso that the South, the modern West is practically the creation of a federal government that killed and displaced its original inhabitants, and has long subsidized railroads and highways through practically empty areas that have also made convenient locations for military bases, bringing money to places with little economic base.
I must say it gets tiresome to live in a state like New Jersey, where we give more than we take from the feds, and then hear Tea Party hacks in places like Alaska and Alabama bitch about the size of the government. It confirms a thought I've had for a long time, namely that the Tea Party is less about reducing the size of government than in making sure the government's largesse flows in a certain direction. The rather grey supporters of the Tea Party don't want to part with their Social Security or Medicare. They still want the government to build highways and to keep its military bases open. However, they don't want tax money going to "moochers" and "takers" (we all know who they are, wink wink), or anyone who's "not like us." That also means "securing the border," but not punishing corporations that hire cheap, undocumented labor. I'm hardly the first person to point out that the whole Tea Party thing often seems to be a kind of white identity politics for hardcore conservatives. Looking through a regional lens, and knowing the history of the South (and to an extent of the West), it's hardly surprising that those places are the hot beds of Tea Party activity.
In the future I doubt we will see the likes of Carl Palodino getting nominated states like New York anymore, but Mississippi will still keep producing Chris McDaniels, and Texas will still manufacture Dan Patricks. If anything, we are about to witness a replay of the GOP's regionally-divided internal battles of the 1950s and 1960s. Last time around the political style of the South and West won out; this time, if the party is to not fall into irrelevance due to generational replacement, the less radical conservatives might need to win.