It wasn't very crowded; there was no missing that. Four years ago, on another April 15, I joined a robust media contigent to cover the second national Tea Party day of action, outside the White House. It was damp and rainy and disorganized, but it brought out hundreds of activists with home-made signs and varied affiliations. There weren't even many "professional" Tea Party groups yet -- FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity were still figuring out how to mobilize the growing ranks of Tea Partiers.
They've figured it out now, and they've de-emphazied the big rallies. Less than 100 people gathered at upper Senate park at noon today, rallying in support of a "New Fair Deal," a legislative economic plan designed by FreedomWorks (and approved by activists online.) They cheered politely through speeches from Deal co-managers like Rep. Tom Price and Rep. Mick Mulvaney, and one from failed 2012 Maryland U.S. Senate Candidate Michael Bongino, who boasted that he didn't really need his prepared remarks, and delivered lines like "the progressive income tax is the most regressive tax of all!"
"It was originally going to be a press conference," said FW's Adam Brandon, standing to a side while congressman and activists gave short speeches. "But somebody said: Can I bring my friend? And the friend wanted to bring a friend, and on and on like that." (The March 23 alert for the rally referred to "hundreds" of activists lobbying on the Hill when the rally was over.)
People read too much into crowd sizes. The September 12, 2010 Tea Party rally in D.C. was a bit of a bust; we remember what happened seven weeks later. The activists I talked to were actually less excited in the rally, with its familiar characters like The Guy With the Captain American Jersey and Marine Flag and George Washington Guy, then by the direct action they'd pulled in the morning. Thirty-odd people walked up to the Republican National Committee, attempting to pass on petitions that asked the party to undo rules tying delegates closer to the results of primaries and caucuses. They didn't get in the door.