With pundits already calling the 2010s the "Tea Party Decade," and an inaugural national symposium in Texas scheduled for later this month, it is becoming clear the Tea Party is set to play a crucial role on the political stage for the foreseeable future. (Watch Ron Paul discuss the Tea Party movement on CNN.) But one thing that isn't clear is who exactly will emerge as the leader of this diverse network of disaffected voters. Here is a guide to some frontrunners in the race to head up the movement:
Who? The former Alaska governor shot to fame after being selected as Sen. John McCain's running mate in the 2008 election — and now seems to be considering a run for president in 2012.
Why? Palin is "the reigning queen of the disenfranchised," says Mark McKinnon in the Daily Beast. As the "keynote speaker" of the Tea Party symposium in San Antonio on January 24, she will surely "generate" some "press" — and, perhaps, momentum for a future campaign?
Why Not? She may be the Tea Partiers' "kinsman," writes Charles Cooper at CBS News, but "at this point, they need her more than she needs them." If she's serious about running in 2012, she needs to look beyond the "minority" represented by the fringe.
Who? One of Fox News' highest-rated commentators, known for his conservative-leaning daily TV show.
Why? Without the profile given to them by Beck's TV show, the Tea Partiers wouldn't exist, says Donald Hank at Renew America. Beck has "changed the nation" with his broadcasting, and could do so again with his Tea Party leadership.
Why Not? Does the Tea Party really want a leader famous for "near lunatic rants and tearful outbursts?," asks Fernando Rendon at Florida Today. He may have "quite a following," but making him leader would do little for the respectability of the movement.
Who? An outspoken GOP congresswoman from Minnesota.
Why? Bachmann is one of the "few elected officials" to become a "tea party confidant," says Kathleen Hennessy at the LA Times, and that "puts her in a position of rising influence." (Last fall, for instance, she organised her own Tea Party-esque rally at the U.S. Capitol.)
Why Not? Bachmann's call to voters in her district to "defy the Census" could cost her her job — and her political influence — if Minnesota winds up losing a congressional seat because of uncounted voters, says Eric Kleefeld in Talking Points Memo.
Who? Former CNN commentator.
Why? He has crafted an identity for himself as a "star-spangled superhero, dazzling enemies with his ferocious smile as he restores truth, justice and the American Way," says Joe Conason at Salon. That image has always seemed more appropriate for a political candidate than a news anchor.
Why not? "I don't think he has the fan base or, more important, the broader charisma, to make any kind of serious run" as a Tea Party presidential candidate, says James Poniewozik at Time.
Who? The 38-year-old former speaker of the Florida House is challenging Florida governor Charlie Crist from the right for an open seat in the U.S. Senate.
Why? Rubio is an "inspiring leader for the next generation of the conservative movement," says former GOP house majority leader Dick Armey, quoted in the Washington Independent. His willingness to challenge the political establishment has energized Tea Partiers.
Why Not? Rubio may be the Tea Party's "golden boy" now, says Thomas Francis in the Broward Palm Beach New Times, but his "appeal to the old-fashioned Republican set" seems more "convincing" — and this fact will eventually alienate the "temperamental" Tea Partiers.
Who? Republican governor of New Mexico 1995-2003, a construction magnate and Iron Man triathlete.
Why? Johnson is a "natural fit" for the movement, says DaveG at Race42012.com. As a fiscal conservative who is attractive to liberals, he's a "more mainstream version of Ron Paul."
Why Not? A a supporter of legalizing marijuana, Johnson is an avowed libertarian, according to Paul Wachter at Sphere.com. Like Ron Paul, he'd certainly generate "online buzz" — but "not very many votes."
Who? Last year, the Republican junior Senator for South Carolina has been ranked by the National Journal as the most conservative member of the Senate.
Why? DeMint is a "scourge for Democrats and some Republicans alike," says Manu Raju and Josh Kraushaar in Politico. Accordingly, the Tea Party movement "treats him like a rock star."
Why Not? DeMint may be making a "noise" promoting conservative ideals, says Jessica Taylor, also in Politico, but it is unclear whether this is impressing voters in South Carolina. In a recent poll, only "29 percent" said his first priority was "advocating" for the state. DeMint "has his own reelection contest in 2010," and for the time being he'll need to concentrate on that.
Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC) became a hero to Tea Partiers across the country when he shouted "You Lie!" during Obama's speech to Congress last September.
Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) delighted many in the grassroots movement by suggesting that perhaps Texas should "secede" from the United States. Like Wilson, he has spoken at Tea Party rallies.
Former Rep. Dick Army, who as president of FreedomWorks — a conservative political action committee (PAC) — has played a key role in the growth of the Tea Party phenomenon.