The conventional wisdom right now is that, although there appears to be a rift in the Republican party, it's not going to break up. The Slate-pitchy proposition is that Republicans disagree about "tactics not goals." To quote Jonathan Chait, "Mainstream Republicans and the Tea Party have fallen out almost entirely over political tactics." Matthew Yglesias writes in Slate essentially the same thing as Bernstein in Salon: it's the tactics, not the policies.
But this overstates the case: the Tea Party is a nationalistic fringe right-wing party and will inevitably have to split with the GOP.
Disagreements over tactics are often indicative of fundamental policy disagreements. To call the difference between a Bolshevik Leninist and a Fabian Socialist a disagreement over tactics would be true, but absurd.
There are groups and individuals who would like to constrict the tea-party movement to fiscal issues. That would be a huge mistake. It's not just about government spending... it's about the law of the land and the will of the people. It's about a nation whose government has lost its moorings.
Similarly, these non-negotiables delineated by TeaParty.org (which has ties to the conservative nationalist Michael Savage) would make any establishment Republican blush:
1. Illegal aliens are here illegally.
2. Pro-domestic employment is indispensable.
4. Special interests must be eliminated.
5. Gun ownership is sacred.
8. Deficit spending must end.
9. Bailout and stimulus plans are illegal.
12. Political offices must be available to average citizens.
14. English as our core language is required.
15. Traditional family values are encouraged.
Those are not the goals of a major political party, but rather a fringe nationalistic movement. In fact, similar nationalist movements are cropping up all over Europe, fueled by the influx of immigration, especially of Muslims. Such movements are not historically unique and frequently arise when societies face an influx of immigrants or a radical economic shift.
We can see a similar movement in Britain in the 1960s, when Britain's Conservative Party faced the same struggle the GOP face today. In 1964, Peter Griffiths, a Tory, won a seat with the slogan: "If you want a n*gger for a neighbour, vote Labour." In 1966, when the moderate Conservative Party lost, A.K. Chesterton (winner of the creepiest lips award), along with John Tyndall, decided that they would be better off splitting off from the Tories and forming their own National Front, which later evolved into the BNP.
The Conservatives worked to create a more center-right party and worked, haltingly, to rid itself of racist past and towards a more centrist agenda. In contrast, the BNP is pro-life, pro-capital punishment, strictly anti-immigration, rejects any government spending that doesn't serve British interests, wants to teach only the British heritage in schools, supports stand your ground laws, and believes all races are equal, but they just shouldn't mingle. Sound familiar? Try to see if you can tell the difference between a Tea Party manifesto and the BNP manifesto.
The Tea Party has all of the hallmarks of a nationalist xenophobic (dare I say fascist?) movement: 89% white, 58% keep a gun in their house, a faction believe that violence against the government is justified, and most believe America is a country in decline. They are anti-immigrant, authoritarian, opposed to social progress, anti-gay, and anti-abortion. They overwhelmingly support the death penalty, really dislike Muslims, very much dislike immigrants (to the point of militarizing the border) and they're really, really racist. Obviously, the Tea Party is not a single cohesive group, but it's clear that the anti-immigrant wing holds major influence in the coalition of crazy. Sinclair Lewis summed up the situation a century ago: "When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
This thesis also helps explain the Tea Party fascination with birtherism, strange theories about neo-colonialism, and why they are absolutely terrified of the U.N.
While the "Tea Party" sentiment has existed for a long time in the Republican party, but it has remained dormant, largely placated by the race-baiting language of Republican candidates. The recent rise of the Tea Party was ignited by three things: the failure of the Bush presidency, the election of Barrack Obama (portrayed as an illegal black Muslim immigrant, a trifecta of evil for the Tea Party), and the economic decline of the middle class.
If America was a parliamentary democracy (as it should be), the current split would have happened a long time ago. We would have four parties: a nationalistic "Tea Party," a center-right "Rockefeller Republican" party, a center-left "New Democratic" party and a green party. But the split has never happened because members of the far right and left voted for the lesser of two evils.
There have been numerous far-right organizations in the U.S., but none have achieved what the Tea Party has: the mobilization capacity to shut down the government. The GOP has tried to placate the Tea Party while also bringing the party into the 21st century. How long will it be until the Tea Party decides that they'd be better off on their own? To quote the Gospel of Mark, "A house is divided against itself cannot stand."