–updated below–

Just when you think the Republican brand couldn’t get any worse. Enter the Tea Party to help, with new accusations and evidence that the rhetoric is turning into something far more serious than political activism, which goes well beyond a “personal touch.”

Even though there is no evidence whatsoever that Sarah Palin is suggesting scoping out Democratic members for harm, this graphic from her Facebook page makes her vulnerable to association with the worst of the worst on the right. Sarah Palin wants to be taken seriously, as part of the solution. So, as a leading member of the right, Mrs. Palin needs to understand the importance of her voice and the ramifications of her actions to her political base, who is being churned up to fight something far more than an election square off.

Palin’s Facebook imagery is particularly inappropriate given today’s new developments, with the FBI now investigating a dangerous case of potential vandalism out of Virginia:

Law enforcement authorities are investigating the discovery of a cut propane gas line at the Virginia home of Rep. Thomas Perriello’s (D-Va.) brother, whose address was targeted by tea party activists angry at the congressman’s vote for the health care bill.

An aide to the congressman confirmed to POLITICO that a line to a propane tank behind his brother’s home near Charlottesville had been sliced. […]

Who are these people? From Quinnipiac:

Only 13 percent of American voters say they are part of the Tea Party movement, a group that has more women than men; is mainly white and Republican and voted for John McCain, and strongly supports Sarah Palin, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released today.

While voters say 44 – 39 percent that they will vote for a Republican over a Democratic candidate in this November’s Congressional elections, if there is a Tea Party candidate on the ballot, the Democrat would get 36 percent to the Republican’s 25 percent, with 15 percent for the Tea Party candidate, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds. […] (emphasis added)

Where women on the right are concerned, looks like the Tea Party is taking over where the unhinged fringe puma crowd left off.

But the Tea Party is not filled with independents. From Ed Kilgore:

The poll doesn’t ask enough questions to get at the details of Tea Party ideology, but it also doesn’t supply any ammunition to the common perception that Tea Partiers are libertarians at heart, and/or that they are displacing the Christian Right within the conservative coalition. Actually, 21% of self-identified white “born-again” evangelicals consider themselves part of the Tea Party movement, well above the 13% figure for all voters. And the the two categories of voters share a rare positive attachment to Sarah Palin (white “born-agains” approve of her by a 55/29 margin, Tea Partiers by a 72/14 margin).

At some point, the more questionable assumptions that pundits are making about the Tea Folk–they are right-trending independents, they are hostile to the Christian Right–need to yield to empirical evidence. Now would be a good time to start.

I’ve heard from quite a few people who say they’re walking away from the Democratic Party to become independents and they’re certainly not racist. The only “independents” I’ve heard from that say they’re part of the Tea Party movement are also Sarah Palin supporters. The majority of independents I hear from are staunchly anti Tea Party, while also being sick of all political parties.

Republicans have a problem. Hey, but so do Democrats. Political parties are simply on the outs.

I’d just like to see a few more Libertarian-leaning Democrats. It’s lonely out here.

But one thing on which we all should agree is that the current trend of Tea Party Republicans is unacceptable and un-American.

UPDATED 3.25: Tweet from Palin watcher saying “It has just come to my attention that Sarah Palin moderators deletes any post that tells her to change the image on her page.” Not exactly commendable, but it is revealing.