Do the tea-partiers really represent the solid conservative truths of the past - or just the discredited fads of yesterday?
I have wondered something similar, but all I can come up with is that they have no idea what they represent beyond anger with how shitty their lives have become (or have been told they've become). This is largely a racially-based backlash against a country whose diversity and modernity have left them in the dust wondering how they will ever manage to keep up. They grab onto touchstone politicians as their heroes (like Reagan, but willfully ignoring the fact that he raised taxes during his term and opposed torture in all forms) but really have no idea what those politicians stood for. They revise history, asserting unwavering certainty that this country was founded on evangelical Christian values (as if all the founders would have joined mega-churches like John Hagee's, followed the Prosperity Gospel, and railed against the wickedness of Islam).
After I read Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas? I understood these people more, and even still they are today far more incoherent and less focused than backlash movements of the past.