Much as major-party elected officials once tried to brand the tea party as a small, extremist fringe, the movement has had its clear and relevant impact on national politics.
Shortly after President Barack Obama took office eight years ago, its participants at first protested his big housing bailout plan, aimed at helping avoid foreclosures then rampant.
Early on, its denizens agitated to reduce taxes and government spending and debt, and pushed against government-sponsored universal health care.
And by Sept. 12 of that inaugural year, the movement produced a big Taxpayer March on Washington, with protests in other cities as well.
At the time, their targets were inclined to say, “Give the new president a chance!” after eight years of Republican rule.
It presaged elections to come, as well as a congressional comeback for the GOP and its Tea Party Caucus, devoted to obstructing various Obama priorities.
No wonder activists even slightly to the left of the American center now seem intent on hardening their positions with tactics that they saw tea party populists use.
On issue after issue, presidential order after order, we can expect to hear vocal opposition. Some of the rally chants in New York echo those of Occupy Wall Street five years ago.
Optics are similar. Smartphones raised like torches to capture crowd shots. “Mic-check” messages sent front-to-back through the throng. Handmade signs, some bearing cute slogans or obscenities.
This week brings anti-Trump protests outside the offices of Long Island Reps. Peter King and Lee Zeldin, both part of the powerful House Republican majority. Also, demonstrators seek to pressure Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to resist approving any more Trump nominees to top positions.
With Democrats now bounced by voters from congressional control and from the White House, the party’s senators, representatives and other elected officials are now running to the front of rallies that draw thousands.
The circumstances of President Donald Trump’s ascent, and the messages he sends from the White House, make this “out”-party backlash quicker and more intense. The second week of the administration, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) declared he will filibuster Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nomination.
The stated rationale is that Republicans “stole” the vacant court seat of the late Antonin Scalia by refusing to act on Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland.
Whatever its merits, the confrontation now looms, only with last year’s partisan roles reversed.
In New York, some Hillary Clinton supporters who once sniffed at the sight of Trump rallies and Bernie Sanders rallies, and touted their superior “ground operations,” now find themselves taking part in mass gatherings as a way to answer Trump’s empowered Twitter jeers.
If the rancor doesn’t fade soon, these “outs,” united, might never be outshouted. For whatever shouting, Facebooking, tweeting and filibusters may be worth.