As liberal radio host Randi Rhodes often says, "there is nothing new under the sun." Despite all the attention the tea baggers have gotten over the last year and a half (largely due to their outrageous costumes, signs and statements), they are not a new phenomenon. These people are the base of the Republican party and always have been. They're the people who thought George W. Bush did a heckuva job (even if they distance themselves from him now). They're the ones who made Sarah Palin a rock star. The difference now is that they've got tea bags hanging from their tri-cornered hats.
The other difference of course is that rather than being fringe rabble rousers, they are now front-and-center in the conservative movement. They were always courted and pandered to by establishment Republicans, but they were never supposed to become the driving force of the GOP. They are a Frankenstein's monster, and were it not for the fact that they may lay waste to the countryside in much the same way, they'd be very entertaining to watch.
The most disturbing aspect of this turnover of the conservative pond, is the mixing of religion and politics, and the anti-gay, anti-Muslim, xenophobic rhetoric that comes with it. It's always been around, spoken through megaphones of varying volumes, but now it is central to the mainstream conservative message.