WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES…. Last year, on Sept. 12, anti-government zealots rallied in Washington to demand … whatever it is anti-government zealots want. At the time, the fairly impressive turnout was the only aspect of the event that really mattered.

ABC News reported an approximate figure of 60,000 to 70,000 protesters. Glenn Beck at one point said a “university” pegged the attendance at 1.7 million, but he couldn’t remember which one. Malkin and others claimed 2 million. Several conservatives pointed to an article about the crowd size for the Obama inauguration, and simply pretended it was an article about the right-wing rally. The whole thing got rather embarrassing.

Yesterday, of course, was 9/12 again, and conservatives once again demanded attention. This time, however, the right hoped everyone wouldn’t pay so much attention to the crowd size. House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (R-Ind.) specifically urged reporters not to “focus on the numbers” of people in attendance.

Why the shift in emphasis? Because so few people actually showed up yesterday.

For the most part, the day was gray, wet and overcast. Though the threat was there, serious precipitation never came. That’s not how the several thousand tea partiers gathered in DC for the second 9/12 rally today would describe things, though — according to them, a hard rain fell on President Obama and his socialist cronies.

This was not the 9/12 rally of a year ago. The crowd was miniscule by comparison, with many tea partiers kept away from the nation’s capital by competing 9/12 events in Sacramento and St. Louis, and many others not interested in shelling out for a return schlep to the city so soon after they packed the Lincoln Memorial for Glenn Beck’s August 28 event.

Diminishing returns can be tricky. The first time Tea Partiers, Fox News, and lobbying organizations urged right-wing activists to come to Washington, a reasonable number of folks were willing to show up. The second time, the turnaround was less impressive. The third and fourth time, during the health care fight, there was another drop off. By the eighth time, it’s hard to know why anyone would even bother.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.