Many people assume that since the Tea Party of 2009-2010 was so vocal on the right that it was (yes, was) more conservative on every issue than the previous party establishment. On some issues, largely fiscal, this is true. Tea Party candidates mostly wanted to reform and cut more than their established opponents, who were more comfortable with the status quo. However, this did not necessarily translate to social issues (that don’t include abortion). There is ample evidence for this, even in the Senate’s current ongoing mass “evolution” on same-sex marriage.
There were 13 new Republican Senators elected in 2010, some who had beaten more establishment Republicans in their primary then won the general, some who just took over for another retiring Republican, and some who beat Democrat incumbents to flip the seat to the GOP. Two of them, Portman and Kirk, have since announced their support for same-sex marriage. At least two others (Rubio and Paul) have said the issue should be left to the states (the same position as President Obama). Rubio goes further and opposes the idea of a Federal Marriage Amendment, which is part of the official platform of the GOP. And I have a feeling that if repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 federal definition of marriage, ever came up for a vote in the Senate, even more would break ranks and support it (most likely, Ayotte, Lee, Toomey, Johnson). Only one other GOP Senator, a pre-2010 incumbent, has made news on the topic, Lisa Murkowksi, who said she’s “evolving”.
It’s thus noteworthy that the only Republican Senators to fully support same-sex marriage, along with the two most prominent GOP voices for allowing states to decide, were all elected in the Tea Party wave of 2010. Contrast that with the number of established Republican Senators in office before 2010 who support marriage equality, overturning DOMA, or letting the states decide: 0.
Yet more evidence that the Tea Party movement was (yes, WAS) actually more libertarian than arch-conservative.