A pollster isolated in a prison cell for the past five years, with access to polling data but no other news, would have had no trouble spotting the breaking away of Republican-leaning independents, and she probably would have identified it as the most curious and potentially consequential change in the country's partisan structure. When, on release from isolation, she learned about the tea party's emergence, she would not have been at all surprised -- except, perhaps, to wonder why it took so long. Indeed, if the tea party movement had not arisen, something else a lot like it probably would have.
So who wins from the rise of debranded Republicans? In the short-term, almost certainly the GOP. In 2010, debranded Republicans will be voting against Democrats, and at high rates: Like Republicans, three-fourths of them tell Pew they are "absolutely certain" to vote, a figure that puts their enthusiasm 10 percentage points ahead of Democrats'.
That's the first half of the paradox. The second half comes in 2012, where it may be that a GOP with the tea party in the vanguard can't win nationally. Especially if Obama moves toward the middle and the economy shows some signs of recovery.
This was interesting throughout, be sure to check out the link for much more detail.