Does crowd size matter? Not really.
To give Obama his due, it’s no surprise that his 2008 crowd was easily the largest ever. He received the most votes of any presidential candidate in history that year, a record that still stands. He succeeded a president whose job approval had cratered, so he was greeted with jubilation by everyone not a part of the activist right. And of course he was the first black president, whose inauguration was historic beyond the usual reasons. It’ll be a long time before any president meets that benchmark of excitement. But Democrats have institutional reasons for drawing bigger crowds in Washington too. It’s a heavily Democratic city; it stands to reason that inaugurating a Democratic president will draw many more local onlookers than inaugurating someone from the other party would.
Obama’s in a class by himself but note that Bill Clinton’s first inaugural after 12 years of Republican rule wasn’t far off the pace of O’s second inaugural even though the country’s population was much larger by 2012. The best numbers for a Republican are only half what Clinton drew. Democratic locals are going to turn out for Democrats; a city packed with federal workers is going to turn out for candidates who support bigger government payrolls; and D.C.’s many black residents were surely understandably eager to see the first black president sworn in. If the inauguration were held in, say, Salt Lake City, the partisan dynamics to all of this would be much different. Add to that the fact that it was rainy today in D.C. and there are bound to be lots of people who stayed home but would have turned out in better conditions. And even with all of that working against him, Trump did fine crowd-wise. One informal estimate put the size at 250,000, but another noted that the number of Metro trips made this morning was on par with the number made for Bush’s second inaugural, which would put Trump in line for the biggest crowd for a Republican president ever.
Washington D.C. is just a few hours drive from the Democrat-infested cities of Baltimore, Philadelphia, and NYC. Trump’s base of support is located farther away. That gives Democrats the home-field advantage.
But there is another big reason for the difference in crowd sizes – organization. Turning out big crowds has never been something that Republicans were good at. Democrats on the other hand, specialize in whipping up mobs. That’s because they are better organized. The only really organized part of the GOP is the religious right, and they are generally focused on right-to-life protesting.
Democrats have the unions, the black churches, feminist groups, pro-abortion groups, civil rights groups, anti-war groups, students, LGBT groups, environmentalist groups, bra-burners, tree-huggers, racial grievance mongers, and animal rights groups. They also have financing and media support. The word goes out, the buses are loaded and viola, instant crowd.
That was what was so amazing about the Tea Party and Trump rallies – they both turned out big crowds despite a lack of centralized planning and cooperation.
So yesterday there was a big march on Washington and a bunch of smaller marches around the country. Signs were waved, speeches were made, a good time was had by the participants.
Today, Trump is still President. He’ll still be President tomorrow too. And next week.