DENVER — What a difference a year makes.
After three straight years of Tea Party members and supporters, holding signs, wearing pointy colonial hats, marking Tax Day with raucous rallies on the Capitol’s west steps, the group’s absence Tuesday was conspicuous.
“Some of the adrenaline has gone out of the Tea Party movement, but the conviction hasn’t gone out of it. The impact is still very much there,” said political analyst Eric Sondermann.
“They’re putting the placards away, leaving the banners in the basement, but they’re still flexing their muscle in other ways.”
The first presidential election since the group’s advent is now less than seven months away; and while it’s unclear if the Tea Party movement will affect the general election’s outcome as it did in 2010, it’s certainly impacting the ongoing GOP primary process — even though the one guy the group didn’t want, Mitt Romney, now appears to be the party’s all but certain nominee.
“He may be an establishment figure, but even Mitt Romney’s been pushed pretty far to the right,” Sondermann said. “No one dares cross the Tea Party, so it’s led to the skewing of the Republican Party further to the right.”
In an interview with FOX31 Denver last week, former White House adviser Karl Rove argued that the Tea Party has helped advance conservative ideas around spending and the deficit, even though it hasn’t always been an easy force for the GOP establishment to harness.
“When you have a new movement like the Tea Party, there are lots of pluses and there’s some disadvantages,” Rove said. “But that’s one of the important things about the system. Nothing that changes American politics is always an unalloyed good. You’ve got to take the good with the bad.”
While the Tea Party tsunami helped sweep the GOP to a new House majority in Congress during the last cycle, the movement’s support of ideologically pure candidates in party primaries led, in some cases, to candidates — former Colorado senate hopeful Ken Buck, among them — who were caricatured as ‘too extreme’ and handily defeated in the general election.
Currently, polls show support for the Tea Party declining somewhat; but Rove believes the movement is more popular than many people think.
“For everybody who’s attended a Tea Party rally, there are seven or eight or nine or ten people who share those concerns about the rapid rise in the federal deficit, a rise in government spending,” Rove said.
So what’s happening to the Tea Party?
“I think it’s probably a combination of things,” Sondermann said. “It’s partly strategy — to be a little less visible, less in-your-face is probably a good thing for the Tea Party, and for Republicans generally.
“And I think it’s partly a loss of enthusiasm and energy. You just can’t maintain that kind of visible enthusiasm and adrenaline indefinitely.
“It’s just a fact of life.”
On Monday, we emailed Lesley Hollywood, the founder of the Northern Colorado Tea Party, the state’s largest such group, to find out if any events were planned.
She responded that her group held a small event up north, but that nothing was planned for Denver.
“No one wanted to plan the Denver rally,” Hollywood responded. “I’ve got a new baby, so my hands are a bit full right now.”
But, not too full to be an active participant in the run-up to the November election.
“Looking forward to a busy political season,” Hollywood wrote, signing off.