Proponents of the Women’s March and other protests that have broken out in various city centers and airport terminals across the country often compare themselves to the Tea Party movement.
There is some truth to the comparison. Both groups rallied large crowds in public places. Both delivered political messages through speeches, chanting and signs.
But the differences between the two are far more important.
The Tea Party was a grass-roots movement that coalesced around a specific concern — namely, obscene government spending, high taxes, skyrocketing federal debt and overregulation. In principle, it was not a political campaign for or against any particular candidate or party, though supporting free-market candidates did come into play later. I witnessed someone rocking a Sarah Palin shirt joining with someone in a Ron Paul shirt. The Tea Party’s message was unified and unifying. Republicans, Libertarians and some Democrats, old and young, men and women, came together to voice their concerns. College students concerned with generational theft were joined by entrepreneurs fighting to keep their businesses open and grandparents concerned with their retirement savings and grandchildren’s futures. The Tea Party was truly a big tent with a diversity of individuals focused on one core issue.
The exact opposite is true of these recent liberal protests. Their message is a confused jumble of ideas, causes and opinions, greatly diminishing their ability to influence the future of politics. Depending on which speech, which venue and which day, you could hear about any and all of the following: abortion, suffrage, slavery, racism, wages, criminal justice, immigration, white supremacy, blowing up the White House and more. The only central rallying point is a hatred of Donald Trump and the Republican Party.
The Tea Party was more impactful than the recent protests will ever be because it originated organically with grass-roots Americans. The main officials the Tea Party revolted against were Republicans whom the Tea Party felt had failed to keep their campaign promises to the protesters. The Tea Party was full of protesters who supported limited government, lower taxes, lower federal spending — and they were focused on Republicans who had run on promises to shrink government’s influence in our lives.
The liberal protesters, in contrast, are opposing the opposition party and its president. Their messages might bring together the extreme left, but they’re doing little to challenge their own party’s leadership or platform. Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic establishment are in no danger from these protests, whereas the Tea Party protests arguably led to the downfall of House Speaker John Boehner. Republicans expect Democrats to oppose them; it’s no surprise.
At their most basic, these protests are a continuation of the failed, tone-deaf Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders campaigns. They might help build lists and raise money, but they are ultimately a tool of Democrats for Democrats against Republicans. They not only fail to reach beyond the traditional liberal support base, they actually fire up Trump supporters, who find the mean-spirited jeering and mockery at these protests repulsive. The protests confirm Trump supporters in their decision to support him, and the protests ensure they will continue to support him down the road.
The Tea Party protests were organized by grass-roots activists, many of whom had never participated in the political process and whose names you wouldn’t know. They were formed to fight complacency in Washington and bring about the end of the status quo. The Tea Party forced reassessment and realignment of the Republican Party. The recent protests only reinforce the anger within the Democratic Party and enmity across the aisle. That’s why, despite all their clamoring for change, the recent protests’ influence will remain outside the mainstream and will not eclipse the strength and significance of the Tea Party.
• Adam Brandon is the president and CEO of FreedomWorks.