WASHINGTON – Tea party protesters marked tax day Thursday with exhortations against “gangster government” and appeals from Republicans seeking their grass-roots clout in November elections, a prospect both tempting and troubling to those in the loose movement.
Several thousand rallied in Washington’s Freedom Plaza in the shadow of the Ronald Reagan office building, capping a national protest tour launched in the dust of Nevada and finishing in the capital that inspires tea party discontent like no other place. Allied activists demonstrated from Maine to Hawaii in hundreds of lively protests, all joined in disdain for government spending and — on the April 15 federal tax filing deadline — what they see as the Washington tax grab.
The Washington rally in brilliant sunshine was spirited but modest in size, lacking the star power of tea party favorite Sarah Palin, who roused the masses at earlier stops of the Tea Party Express in its cross-country bus tour. Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota won roars of affirmation as she accused President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats of trying to take over health care, energy, financial services and other broad swaths of the economy.
“We’re on to this gangster government,” she declared. “I say it’s time for these little piggies to go home.”
She appealed directly for tea partiers to swing behind “constitutional conservatives” in congressional campaigns, just as they contributed to Scott Brown’s upset in the Massachusetts Senate race in an early test of their potency. “I am the No. 1 target for one more extremist group to defeat this November,” she said. “We need to have your help for candidates like me. We need you to take out some of these bad guys.”
Although Republicans are ideological allies of many tea partiers — and GOP operatives are involved in some of the organizations — they are also part of the establishment that many in the movement want to upend. No members of the Republican congressional leadership were featured at the capital rally.
In Wisconsin, a half dozen tea party groups from around the state decided to boycott Thursday’s rally in Madison because former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson was among the speakers.
“We do feel it’s important that people know this is not who we would ever align ourselves with,” said Kirsten Lombard, organizer of the Madison-based tea party group Wisconsin 9/12 Project. Tim Dake, organizer of the Milwaukee-based GrandSons of Liberty, said: “Tommy is representative of the old boy network way of doing things.”
A similar sentiment was seen on a sign carried by a tea party member in Washington: “Reelect No One.”
But plenty of Republican hopefuls came forward at rallies around the country, hoping to tap the energy and anger for political ends. In Louisville, Ky., Rand Paul, an outsider who has become a leading contender for the Republican Senate nomination, declared, “I’m clinging to my guns, my religion and my ammunition” and added: “We were intended to be a constitutional Republic. Yet, we have devolved into some kind of mad democracy.”