Richard Viguerie is one of the GOP operatives responsible for the "Reagan Revolution." He pioneered small-donor mailing-list techniques, so when he says he's been a Tea Partier since before there was a Tea Party, he's not kidding. He's been taking money from the folks who support Limbaugh, Palin and Beck for decades. We can assume with a fair amount of confidence that what he's thinking echoes TP thought in general.
He's written an op-ed for Politico.com, and it's worth reading.
In the first paragraph, he writes: "Over the past 100 years, an elite progressive minority has taken the Republican Party far afield from its conservative platform and the interests and values of its grassroots conservative base." It's pretty standard conservative paranoia - the East Coast elites are coming to get us.
It just happens to be the exact opposite of his party's history.
A hundred years ago, the Republicans WERE the progressives. Trust-busting Teddy Roosevelt was a Republican; so was McKinley, who was the first president in US history to advocate any form of pluralism. The post-Civil War Radical Republicans were responsible for the election of the first African-Americans to Congress, and explicit proponents of the power of the Federal government over the states.
If you continue to read past Viguerie's first paragraph, things get even weirder - for instance, Walter Cronkite and his pre-Vietnam colleagues on ABC and NBC are cast as liberal mouthpieces.
But it's a statement that sounds right if you're a Tea person, a classic example of Colbert "truthiness." It fits in with the Tea Party narrative of growing encroachment by hostile liberal forces on the small party of patriots. It just happens to be wrong.
But facts don't matter when the Truthy is on your side. (Neither does the fact that headline and lede have nothing to do with the rest of the piece. Quibbles, I know.)