Whoever coined the phrase ‘the wisdom of crowds’ may have second thoughts about it after seeing the crowd reaction at the Republican debates. Most people do not watch political debates at such an early stage in the process, so what gets registered in the public consciousness is what the media and pundits focus on after each debate. So far, appalling audience reactions seem to have become the story and this cannot be good news for the Republican party.
In the first debate, there were loud cheers for the record number of executions carried out in Texas. In the second, what is remembered was the yelling out that the person without health insurance deserved to die. In the third debate, Rick Perry even got booed for standing by his policy of allowing the children of undocumented people to pay in-state tuition for college, saying “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.”
Yes, Rick Perry, who got such loud cheers in his first debate for his cheerful attitude towards executing people, got booed for being a softie.
In the third debate we had a gay soldier asking Rick Santorum what he would do as president about gays in the military. Santorum gave a weird answer (to loud cheers) where he not only said that he wanted to bring back ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (a policy that had long become an embarrassment even for those who opposed equal rights for gays), but seemed to go further and suggest that everyone in the military should not even talk about or have sex of any kind. Good luck with that policy!
But what was astonishing was that the soldier got booed for just asking the question. Yes, the crowd’s intense homophobia even overcame their normal desire to grandstand about patriotism and pander to the military, and not a single candidate on the stage spoke out against that awful display. Either they approved of the behavior, were stunned that the crowd reacted that way and were rendered speechless, or did not have the guts to rebuke those who booed because they feared alienating the nutters who seem to be the most energetic segment of their party and the ones who bother to come for these debates.
It is true that noisy mob reactions are rarely representative of the feelings of a large crowd, and reflect merely those of its more vocal elements. But still, the theatrics are not good. I have no idea how this is playing out in Republican homes across the nation but surely it can’t be helping? Is the Republican party in increasing danger of alienating even its own supporters? Surely even many Republicans, except for the loonies, must be turned off by their party’s image as one of angry haters who revel in death and discrimination?