National Tea Party groups had planned to make a statement to lawmakers today with a well-publicized rally on Capitol Hill. Hordes of attendees were going to demand that wavering Republican members of Congress not compromise halfway with Democrats on a budget deal. A compromise for $33 billion in cuts instead of the Republicans' maximalist proposal of $61 billion, Tea Party folks believe, would be a betrayal of promises made during the 2010 election. So the Tea Party held its big important rally this afternoon as planned — but it only drew "perhaps a couple hundred" attendees. C'mon, Tea Party! Get your act together, or go extinct.

Who knows if House Speaker John Boehner gave a shit about this rally, its size and its intensity, at all in the first place. But if anything, seeing the Tea Party's last big budget rally in Washington draw such a small crowd will likely push him more towards the "reach a compromise and avert a shutdown" path, and further away from the Tea Party's preferred "never compromise on anything" approach.

The Tea Party circa 2011 can still scare the crap out of Republicans with primary and cash threats, but the movement will gradually reach an expiration date. It started as a vehicle to harness the base's anger and win the low-turnout midterm elections. That strategy proved successful! But the dynamics of the next election are completely different. 2012 will be about building a broad coalition with independents and moderates in a high-turnout environment. These voters don't like the Tea Party much. They want to see competent leadership, or something approaching it, in Washington. It would kill the GOP to shut down the government because a narrow band of Tea Partiers didn't get every single cut it wanted.

[Image via AP]