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Round 2 of Tea Party protests: a political powerhouse in the making?

Protests against taxes and red ink are set for this weekend. Their potential to form a formidable national movement is unclear.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry made news when he said at a Tea Party protest that if Washington didn't change its profligate ways, Texas would consider secession.

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What the critics say

From early on, critics have said the movement is a Republican "astroturf" phenomenon.

"It's hard to see these as grass-roots, nonpartisan events when you've got [former GOP House leader] Dick Armey headlining one, [conservative talk-show host] Glenn Beck is headlining one with Ted Nugent, and the rest of the headliners are Republican officials," says Erikka Knuti, communications director at Media Matters for America.

Marc Cooper, a journalist and professor at USC's Annenberg School for Communication, has called them "out of touch with the historical moment," saying "the center of gravity in the country" backs a more progressive agenda.

President Obama addressed the issues raised by protesters at an April 29 town hall event in Missouri, saying that while belt-tightening was necessary, he would not cut programs that "help ordinary people and give more tax cuts to the wealthy. We tried that formula for eight years, it did not work, and I don't intend to go back to it."

Where do Tea Partiers go from here?

While several Republican Party stars spoke at the April 15 events, many organizers have since distanced themselves from the GOP, which they see as having contributed to deficit spending.

There are two strands of thought on the way forward. One is to focus on alerting state and national politicians that they are being watched. "We are going to be electorally involved and support candidates who are in favor of fiscal responsibility," says Nashville organizer Michael Patrick Leahy.

The other is to create a national coalition, perhaps to be introduced by a march on Washington this fall. Crafting a cogent national agenda won't be easy, says Gene Sweeney, a Tea Party coordinator in Sarasota, Fla. Ideological rifts in the movement – over, for example, whether to invite Republicans to speak at events – and general public apathy could slow its momentum, he says.

But he's not discouraged. "We, the people, are coming," says Mr. Sweeney.

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