To Republicans, the Tea Party movement is considered a separate organization espousing some Republican ideals. What are the particular idiosyncrasies that differentiate between the Republicans and the Tea Party?
- Tea Party is a political movement as opposed to a party.
- Tea Party is largely anti-Democratic-Party as far as both ideology and practice, and therefore is in an shifting form of a merger/alliance/intersection with Republicans for partly-tactical, partly-pragmatic, partly-ideological reasons.
Well, for starters, one is a formal political party, and one is a loosely (VERY loosely) organized movement that's not really a "real" party, despite the name. It's a "movement", not a party.
Tea "party"'s main unifying political position is lower taxes (the name is frequently "deciphered" as Taxed Enough Already) and lower government spending.
Please note what was missing from the above? That's right, any words about "Republican". If you look at the two main beefs of Tea Party, it's true that one of them was Obamacare. But the second most favorite thing they oppose was Bush-initiated TARP bank bailout, for which Tea Party blamed establishment Republicans as much as Democrats.
However, in practice, Tea Party is largely an anti-Democratic-Party as far as both ideology and practice, and therefore is in an shifting form of a merger/alliance/intersection with Republicans for partly-tactical, partly-pragmatic, partly-ideological reasons:
A majority (whether overwhelming or not) of people typically active or supporting Tea Party are people who are more likely than not vote Republican in elections; or more specifically, vote against Democrats (this is a pretty important distinction - for example, in STV elections, many of them would instead likely vote Libertarian as a first choice, and Republican only as a second choice for tactical reason).
This is quite understandable, as a typical Democrat supporter and/or politician may have one of many different political positions - just like Republicans do - but a vast majority of those views are incompatible with lower taxes, either for ideological reasons (they favor income redistribution as a goal), or practical ones (somehow their favorite programs gotta get financed).
Just to validate that this is not an opinion but a reality - the latest 2012 poll had 84% of Democrats supporting higher taxes.
As such, when given a choice between a Democrat and a Republican in an election, a typical Tea Party voter would be extremely unlikely to pick the former.
Republicans in USA don't really have a unified political position - they are an amalgamation of all sorts of interests, from lower-taxes-fiscal-conservatives, to social conservatives (some of whom care about taxes and some don't give a hoot), to defence hawks, to rightish libertarians of objectivist stripe to center libertarians of Paulist stripe, to simply people who want to get elected but can't as democrats (For example, Mike Bloomberg is formerly a Democrat and now nominally a Republican. If he ever taken any "typically" Republican views in his public life, he hid it very well).
This means that, unlike Democratic "84% for higher taxes" tent, there appears to be a friendlier space in Republican tent for people who are aligned with Tea Party movement's main goal of less federal spending and lower taxes; even if Republican party as a whole has many strains that are NOT in alignment with Tea Party goals.
To add to this, the answer is further complicated by two competing/interrelated dynamics:
Having learned from electoral success (or rather, lack thereof) of Libertarians, Greens, and other 3rd party attempts that are hamstrung by first-past-the-post electoral system in USA, Tea Party movement sees the Republican Party as a political implementation of achieving its goal, via
getting its representatives elected on "R" ticket instead of the Republicans who are more aligned with establishment and thus contrary to Tea Party goals by acquiescing to higher taxes and looser fiscal policy pushed by Democrats.
They have been partly successful in this, by having a slate of "Tea Party" affiliated Republican legislators elected (who coalesced into "Tea Party" caucus in the House), albeit with some infamous failures by running way-substandard candidates for Senate in 2008.
Barring that, influencing non-Tea-Party R's to their viewpoint the way any other interest constituency in Republican party does.
Republican establishment sees Tea Party as a useful political power to harness to help them due to obvious synergies (basically, R's are less of an enemy to tea party goals than D's are due to taxation positions). To achieve this, they use 2-pronged approach:
They "infiltrated" Tea Party by creating groups within the movement that share the moniker yet are funded and organized by Republican bigwigs (unlike original Tea Party, which was self-organized and largely ran on opposition to Bush's TARP bailouts);
They (at times) successfully harnessed the motivation and energy of Tea Party supporters for R's electoral purposes in general, by positing an obvious point that a non-quite-Tea-Party-friendly R elected is still better than a D to the ideals of Tea Party.