I've got a theory. If you'll allow me some spitballing-- well, even if you won't, it's my blog; I'm-a do it anyway.
When so many state legislatures seemingly went off their rocker immediately upon Wisconsin's having done so (Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey and Michigan come to mind, and that's just the Rust Belt), it seemed rather interesting that they would all go so hard, so fast, so shockingly to the right in so short a time in proximity to the Badger State, and that they would retain such focus on their respective goals despite a withering backlash from voters. It's possible that they're all true believers, that they honestly think it's how to best improve the country. It's possible that it's a display of raw power.
There is, however, another reason I think we may have such a single-minded Tea Party focus.
During Scott Walker's phone call with what he thought to be David Koch, he mentioned Ronald Reagan's firing of striking air traffic controllers, and envisioned himself as the next Ronald Reagan. More recently, he made a seemingly out-of-nowhere remark that he wasn't running for Vice President.
I think that that's quite possibly exactly what he's running for. He doesn't want to be the next Ronald Reagan. He wants to be the next Sarah Palin. I think a fair number of the state legislators and governors do.
Consider: until Sarah Palin was named as John McCain's running mate, she was some middling-to-lousy governor nobody had ever heard of and who wasn't really going anywhere. Then, out of nowhere, along comes McCain. Palin was instantly whisked away from her humdrum existence in Alaska to the magical world of Presidential politics, hobnobbing with the biggest names in the party, all of which had the sole task of trying to make her the second most powerful person in America. Anything she said was automatically taken with the utmost seriousness (and not a small amount of snarkiness). After all, this is a Vice-Presidential nominee! We better listen to her every word, just in case she wins!
And even after her loss, she still had automatic credibility for the next four years, people still hanging on her every word, devoted fans all across the country. After all, she was on a major-party ticket in the last election! They don't get just ANYBODY for that kind of thing! She might run for President next time, and she'll have a leg up on the field, being on the ticket last time! We'd better listen to what she says! Just in case she wins!
And the most beautiful part of the gig? She never actually had to work for any of it. She was appointed as John McCain's running mate by John McCain. That's the sum total of approval from others she needed to cash in on this amazing political bonanza. She did not run for President in 2008. She made no speeches, put forward no policy, until called upon by McCain. She didn't have to. She needed the approval of nobody. Nobody except John McCain. She pleased exactly one person, the right person, and thus glory was hers, win or lose, for the next four years.
Nice work if you can get it.
My theory is that at least some of the state legislators and executives currently tossing a steakhouse full of red meat to the Tea Party want to get that nice work. They all know they have no shot at actually running for President. They may think they'd make a good President, but if you're not already being talked about as a potential candidate, you might as well forget it at this point, at least for 2012. In lieu of that, an informal competition was quickly formed to see who can excite the Tea Party the most from now until the eventual nominee has to name a running mate. And the winner, the person who can get their name shouted the loudest by the Tea Party base, will, they believe, get to be the Vice Presidential nominee. They will be the running mate if only because the base will more or less force them upon the Presidential nominee, lest they punish the ticket with voter apathy or, worse, a third-party Tea Party ticket that would essentially guarantee President Obama's re-election.
'But, Aaron,' I have been asked when I originally put forward this theory, 'what if a Tea Party candidate wins the nomination, like Palin or Michelle Bachmann? Wouldn't they have to take an establishment Republican to ideologically balance the ticket?'
Not really. If you look at the two major scenarios- an establishment Republican wins the nomination, or a Tea Partier wins the nomination- both are likely to end in a Tea Party running mate. If an establishment Republican wins, they will think in terms of balancing the ticket, and, with the Tea Party likely furious that they didn't get their choice of nominee, the establishment nominee will take a Tea Party running mate if only to avoid a third-party Tea Party ticket.
If the Tea Party wins the nomination, though, they will not return the favor. Their defining characteristic is that, once they decide on a course of action, they do not compromise with anyone for any reason. It is their way or the highway, and they'll set up every roadblock they can grab on the highway to steer things toward their way anyway. A Tea Party candidate won't even consider an establishment running mate. They're trying to change the Republican Party to suit their needs, and they're not about to think in terms of ideological balance, no matter what it does to their chances of defeating Obama in the general election. If the establishment loses the Presidential nomination, they're off the ticket entirely, mere spectators to a Tea Party campaign that is disinclined to listen to a word they say, before or after the election.
This has been their modus operandi in elections across the 2010 election cycle- working for the Tea Party even if it harms the Republicans as a whole (here Nate Silver discusses that)- and there's no reason to think this line of thought would not carry over to 2012 as well, either in pushing policy or in forming a Presidential ticket.
And as their goal is to take over the party, some of the party's off-Congress contingent may have seen the writing on the wall, and decided that if that's the direction of the party, they might as well start going in that direction themselves, the better to lead the party in the future.