The left and the media (two separate groups there) love trying to show that Tea Party attendees are wacky. Aside from digging out the nuts that embarrass any group, there is a regular attempt made to show the cognitive dissonance in a group that claims to hate government intervention but loves Medicare, that wants less government spending but accepts government purchased wheelchairs and veterans' benefits.
Turns out this is par for the course in American political discourse.
Within hours of each other, two Gallup reports come out. One headlines that Majorities in US View Government as Too Intrusive and Powerful while the other's byline asserts that Americans' views lean toward more government responsibility than less.
America as a whole has not yet grasped that we can't really have it both ways. We can't be high-spending and low-taxing forever. We can't provide every social benefit ever imagined while keeping government spending below 5% of GDP. How long halt ye between two opinions?
In other words, the Tea Party is pretty normal and mainstream.
There are two areas out of 11 where most American believe responsibility lies solely with government: protecting Americans from foreign aggregation (83%) and protecting Americans from corporate aggression (also known as unsafe products; 51%). Less than 1/4 citizens believe government should be in the business of redistributing income to reduce inequality and bailing out US businesses.
Perhaps as a result, the percent who believe government has too much power has grown from 39% to 59% over the last decade and the percent who believe government is doing too much is as high as it was during the Contract with America. Since 2006, fully 15% of the public has switched from believing we have the "right amount" of regulation to believing we have too much. It is not even dissonant to believe that government is too big without wanting to cut everything away. Independent voters across the board are sounding more and more Republican than Democrat on these issues.
At the moment.
Update: Gallup's poll on change in people's opinions of whether government is a threat or not highlights the last part. It's more about what government is doing than its level of activity.