I’m a little unclear on the confrontational vibe here. I don’t see much disagreement. Yes, if the Tea Party had been a factor prior to 2008, then they could have seen more success, but part of the reason it didn’t come about until 2009 was there was no winning option for them.
“Conservative,” the term, is very elastic and users often pour their own meaning into it. There are types of conservatives, loosely — very loosely, broad brushstrokes here — we have social conservatives, limited government conservatives, and fiscal conservatives. With a venn diagram we could see some overlap, but some are only one type. Generally the Tea Party was the social and limited goverment conservatives overlapers rebelling against the fiscal conservatives who had ruled the party structure since Bush I, and of which McCain was a typical example.
Yes, those forces existed prior to 2008, but they had gotten used to dealing with lesser evils of Bush I and Bush II. If they had coalesced before the McCain nomination, then yes, maybe things would have been different. But then remember that even after 3 years of prep work and a stunningly successful mid-term election, they couldn’t prevent Romney’s nomination in 2012.
Even that level of motivation took time to get to the top of the party structure. And when we get to this cycle, well it is no coindience that the last two viable canidates standing were Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, with a greatly diminished fiscal conservative, party player Kasich, hanging in just because the DC powers thought they could eek it out.
A collegue studies such things and found that past Tea Party affiliation was high for Cruz and Trump supporters, and among the Tea Party, those who had prioritized jobs, immigration, and economic issues became Trump supporters. Those who prioritized limited government and federalism tended to be Cruz supporters and often #NeverTrumpers.
So it took 8 years for effect at the top, but the success just under the top — in Congress and the state houses, came quickly.