What Is the Future of the Tea Party?

(AP Photo/Ed Reinke)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- "America is ready for another new revolution," Sarah Palin told the first ever Tea Party convention on Sunday. "And you are a part of this."

While the conservative, grassroots movement aspires towards the lofty goal of revolutionizing American politics, their first order of business may be to determine what that revolution will look like.

Unlike some political movements in the past, most Tea Party members don't want to become a third party.

"I personally think a third party is a very bad idea at this point," said Judson Phillips, who organized the convention. "I think it will simply divide the conservative vote."

Instead, they hope their brand of candidates can work within Republican Party, advocating lower taxes, less spending, and less government intervention.

While those ideas would appear in the platform of almost any Republican politician, Tea Party ideology gets somewhat murky after that. Some members of the movement, like the Tea Party Nation, believe social issues are a defining characteristic. Others, like the Tea Party Patriots, want to focus on economic and governance issues and not wade into the social policy debates.

Even the convention itself stoked controversy. The Tennessee Tea Party held an impromptu press conference a few feet from the convention site, angry that the price of admission for the three day event was $549.

"It shouldn't cost any money to be an active grassroots citizen," said Antonio Hinton. "We just hope there are other methods than this to achieve our common goal."

The real test on the national level will come later this year, when the Tea Party will see if their brand of conservative candidates can help Republicans take back congressional seats in the mid-term elections.

"2010 is a huge year," said Phillips. "So much is riding on this year."

Tea Partiers like to point to newly-elected senator Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Doug Hoffman in the 23rd district of New York as examples of what their grassroots movement can do. What they often fail to mention, however, is that while Hoffman forced Dede Scozzafava to drop out of the race right before the election, he lost in the general election to Bill Owens, a Democrat. That's the very definition of winning the battle, but losing the war.

Watch John Bentley's report below on the controversy over the cost of the Tea Party convention:

More on Sarah Palin and the Tea Party:

Washington Unplugged: Tea Party Movement
Analysis: Sarah Palin Needs More Than a Hand
Palin: I'd Run for President If It's Right for U.S.
Palin Says Republican Party Should Absorb the Tea Party
Palin: "America is Ready for Another Revolution"