The weekend's high-profile national Tea Party convention, which attracted conservative luminaries from Sarah Palin to Andrew Breitbart, may reveal the movement's national character in a way no other event has. The once-fringe Tea Party rejected its birther roots, indicating a more mainstream approach. It may have signaled the formal presidential ambitions of Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. What else did we learn about the Tea Party this weekend?

  • Tea Party's Coming Civil War  CNN's John Avlon predicts a split between two wings: fiscal conservatives and those with "Obama Derangement Syndrome." He compares the first to "modern Paul Reveres" with an "important civic role to play in our national debate." But the second is just angry. "Their extremism will ultimately lead the movement to self-destruct unless it is clearly repudiated." Avlon says they'll either clash or both fade as a fringe.
On Friday night, Andrew Breitbart introduced “Generation Zero,” a splashy documentary that argues that the financial crisis was deliberately engineered by radical 1960s ideologues. Footage of dancing hippies and pictures of Saul Alinksy — the radical organizer who has become a household name among Tea Parties — were intercut with conservative writers like Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, historian Victor Davis Hanson, and Manhattan Institute scholar Heather MacDonald, explaining how left-wing theorists had long wanted to bring down capitalism and replace it with a socialist society. In a breakout session on immigration policy, Tancredo explained to Tea Partiers that Democrats wanted immigration reform in order to enfranchise millions of new voters to put them in perpetual power.
  • Dedicated to Real Political Reform  Instapundit Glenn Reynolds says in the Washington Examiner that it's not about Sarah Palin.
Over and over again, I heard from Tea Party Activists that they were planning to take over their local Republican (and, sometimes Democratic) party apparatus starting at the precinct level and shake things up. The sense was that party politics have been run for the benefit of the party insiders and hangers-on, not for the benefit of constituents and ideals.  And most of the conference, in fact, was addressed to doing something about that, not to worship of Sarah Palin, with sessions on organizing, media skills, and the like. [...]

Over the next couple of years, these multitudes of virgin political operatives are going to acquire considerably more experience and self-assurance, which means they’re probably going to become considerably more effective, too. Politics may not be the same when they’re done.
  • Brutal Culture Warriors  The Atlantic's Andrew Sullivan is frightened: "This is about Christianism, permanent war against Islam, rounding up illegals (did you hear Tancredo?) and a culture war against the cities and 'unreal Americans'. Unreal means not Christianist." Sullivan dismisses Tea Party claims to fiscal conservatism, "They want much more defense spending. And does anyone think they would ever touch social security? Tell me of one speech this weekend in which any serious spending cuts were actually proposed."
  • Evangelical Christian Core  Conservative blogger Jonathan Kay isn't wild about it. "I think the one thing that really did surprise me was the high level of explicitly Christian social conservatism on display here. One of the 'breakout sessions' featured a speech from Pastor Rick Scarborough — who is most famous for trying to get America’s preachers more politicized." Kay reports on the "fire-and-brimstone" speeches that feel more like Evangelical sermons.