Tea party activists were out in full force to protest the government at a national rally on Tax Day in 2010. But this year, tea party leaders are admitting its harder to protest when Republicans control the House and they are refocusing the movement to look ahead to the 2012 presidential race.
Washington may have seen its last national, anti-tax tea party.
For the first time since the tea party movement began two years ago, its members have not announced plans to storm the National Mall with “Don’t Tread on Me” flags on April 15. No tea party groups have applied for permits at the popular protest locale that day, according to the National Park Service.
In the past, Tax Day rallies with thousands of small-government advocates served as a symbolic show of force against Democratic control. Now that Republicans control the House, the fervor for national protest appears to have waned.
Some tea party leaders say national rallies are a tired custom and they have shifted their focus from federal to state and local issues.
“At first we started with protests because we didn’t know what else to do. When everybody saw that protests weren’t achieving the objective, which is reining in this ridiculous spending, people went to work understanding how to affect policy and legislation,” said John Jaggers of the Northern Virginia Tea Party, which has been hosting local candidates’ forums in lieu of rallies.
Other conservative leaders have found it more difficult to draw tea partyers to D.C. now that Republicans have more say in running the government.
“It’s a little harder on offense. On defense, it’s more unifying. You’re simply saying no,” said Tim Phillips, president of the conservative nonprofit Americans for Prosperity. He estimated that 1,000 activists — a fraction of the crowds at rallies during the health care debate — came to his group’s protest last week over the looming government shutdown.
Grass-roots movements often struggle to keep up momentum after a win such as the Republican gains in the midterm elections, according to David Meyer, a sociology professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of “The Politics of Protest.”
“When you have the people you elected working for you, the urgency of taking it to the streets diminishes,” Meyer said. “It’s quite likely that the tea party people realized that it would be a bad thing to have a national tea party that’s smaller than last year’s demonstration. Going out to the states is a way of making virtue out of necessity.”
But Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, two large national groups that have helped tea partyers organize D.C. rallies in the past, defended their focus on the states as strategic.