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Nationwide Protests Draw Comparisons To Early Tea Party Movement

Reopening the economy is becoming an increasingly partisan issue as the president emboldens supporters to rally across the country.
Posted at 6:53 PM, Apr 20, 2020

Getting back to work has become an increasingly partisan issue.

As protesters descend on state capitals around the country.

Emboldened in part by President Donald Trump.

"People feel that way, you're allowed to protest. I watched the protest and they were all 6 feet apart," President Donald Trump said. "It was a very orderly group of people. Some have gone too far. Some governors have gone too far."

"Some of that clearly is campaign fodder. And that's what he's doing. ... He's playing to that base, as he sees it, which is getting anxious about these social distancing efforts," said Seth McKee, a political science professor at Texas Tech University.

The protests have taken place in red and blue states alike. But the president has focused most of his criticism on Democrats, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who has gotten high marks for her response to the pandemic.

"Look, I'm getting along very nicely with the governor of Michigan whose — look, don't buy paint, don't buy roses. I mean, she's got all these crazy things," the president said recently. 

The gatherings have drawn comparisons to a political movement more than a decade earlier: the Tea Party.

"It has some resemblances to the very earliest stages where genuinely aggrieved local conservatives were called together and featured by national advocates," said Theda Skocpol of Harvard University. 

She is the editor of a new book that examines how recent ideological movements have shaped the country's politics. She says that though the recent protest in some ways resemble those of 2009, the Tea Party's advocacy of economic liberty and small government had a larger appeal than calls to disregard public health officials have. 

"They are a minority. And I'm not sure you're going to see the same kind of resonance you're going to see with a broader group of Americans that you did see to some degree — I don't want to overplay this — with the Tea Party," she said. "The Tea Party was always a minority phenomena. But it probably peaked at about 40% of Americans saying they sympathized with at least some of the goals. And I don't think we're likely to see that because this is a pandemic."

And despite the attention to the protests, millions more Americans around the country have willingly complied with guidelines asking them to stay home to prevent spreading the virus. 

A recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found nearly 60% of the country worry lifting stay-at-home regulations will accelerate the pandemic.