A day after the tax day “tea party” demonstrations drew hundreds of thousands of protesters to more than 300 rallies across the country, the question organizers were asking themselves Thursday was, “What’s next?”
Leaders of the grass-roots protests said they were stunned by the huge turnout at rallies from Bakersfield, Calif. to Atlanta - where more than 12,000 people showed up to oppose President Obama’s spending plans - and were determined to turn the movement into a nationwide force for limited government, less spending and lower taxes.
Republican officials were trying to figure out how they could tap into this new force in American politics, as many of the protesters and local organizers said they did not identify with the main national parties. Republican Party strategists were already warning of the dangers if they failed to respond effectively.
“This is an opportunity for the Republicans or an opportunity lost, depending on how quickly they act,” said John Brabender, a Republican Party campaign strategist. “If Republicans don’t take advantage of this opportunity, you are looking at the real birth of a third party in this country.”
Meantime, tea party organizers were calling for a march on Washington on Oct. 2, when they expect the final battles to take place in Congress on Mr. Obama’s budget. Others said they were drawing up plans to recruit and train those who turned out at the rallies and, in some cases, urge them to run for office.
“This has legs, no question. The sheer number of people who turned out for something like this in Atlanta was astounding,” said James Sibold, former Republican Party chairman of Georgia’s DeKalb County.
Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, a pro-tax cut advocacy group that was one of the chief promoters of the rallies, said his group had volunteers “getting folks signed up for future battles.”
“We cannot view these taxpayer tea parties as an end. Instead, we must use them as a beginning,” Mr. Phillips said in an e-mail to his supporters in which he announced plans for a “massive” march on Washington.
Many of the organizers compared the tax day rallies to the coalescing of liberal groups that helped promote and eventually elect Mr. Obama.
“I think this is the MoveOn.org movement for the right,” said Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a free-market, limited government advocacy group that signed up rally participants for its training programs and neighborhood meetings. “The rally in Richmond drew over 5,000 people on a chilly, rainy day and they were pumped. A lot of them said this was the first time they had done anything like this.”
Republican officials and strategists were thinking about how they could harness the energy and passion behind the anti-tax and spend movement to revive their party ahead of the midterm election cycle. Some said it wouldn’t be easy.
“Things aren’t going to turn around overnight. This is a start and at least they are showing grass-roots energy that the party hasn’t shown for a long time or the conservative movement, for that matter,” said former Rep. Tom Davis of Virginia, president of the Main Street Partnership, a centrist Republican group.
Some Republican officials said there have been conversations about how the Republican Party can plug into the movement’s energy.
“The next step is to see where they take their energy and their passion. I believe there will be a large effort to communicate with their officials,” said Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, chairman of the House Republican Study Committee.
Michigan Republican Party chairman Ronald Weiser said it was critical that the party reach out those who went to Wednesday’s rallies. “They will vote for Republicans if they believe we’re responding to the change they want and the feelings they have,” he said.