Concern trolling is one of my least favorite forms of punditry, so I have refrained from commenting on the Republican Presidential Primary thus far. I don’t like it when conservatives give “friendly” advice to Democrats and tell Democrats what is in their best interest, so I imagine that Republicans wouldn’t like a progressive like me to do the same to them. However, events during this primary season have left such a foul taste in my mouth that I can’t help but note how sad a spectacle the Republican primary has become.
The first signs of the ugliness to emerge from the depths of the G.O.P. came in the form of the Donald Trump boomlet. Trump gave voice to the substantial block of Republicans who denied or doubted that President Obama was legally eligible to be president and rode their support to the top of the polls in April. The boomlet ended with the release of the now infamous “long form” birth certificate, but Trump’s supporters didn’t disappear. They are still out there, searching for the candidate who possesses just the right amount of bile tea flavor.
For quite some time, no one emerged to fill the void that Trump left in the hearts of those Republicans with Obama Derangement Syndrome. Candidate after candidate — from Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, to former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, to Mississippi Governor Hailey Barbour — realized they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, cater to this extremist group known as the Republican primary electorate.
One woman thought she had what it took to speak the language of the Tea Party and ride their support to the nomination. And with that, Minnesota Representative Michelle Bachmann threw her hat into the ring.
With the addition of Bachmann, the base got the hero they had been dreaming of. She is the fighter who doesn’t pull punches, one who uses incendiary anti-Obama rhetoric with glee. In her own words, she led the fight against every major Obama initiative. Her brilliant strategy of saying “no” to everything Obama proposed propelled her to a victory in the barely relevant Ames straw poll. Everything seemed well in Camp Bachmann.
But then Rick Perry showed up, and it all fell apart for Bachmann. As soon as he entered the race, the base abandoned her in droves. She might have led the fight against every major Obama initiative, but she also lost every one of those fights. The base needs winners, and Rick Perry projected the image of a winner. He had the swagger, the charm, the fundraising ability and he killed a coyote on his morning jog with a laser-equipped pistol. Perry was poised to dethrone Mitt Romney as the Republican frontrunner.
And it is here in our story where we come to the debates, where every demon afflicting the modern Republican Party reared its ugly head. It was at the hallowed grounds of the Reagan Presidential Library that the base threw off the shackles of reasonableness and embraced their id with full abandon. When debate moderator Brian Williams mentioned how many people Texas has executed while Rick Perry has been Governor, a sizable chunk of the audience erupted in applause. I’ll repeat, Republican base voters who are passionate enough to attend the Reagan Library debate cheered when the debate moderator mentioned Texas killing people. And Rick Perry embraced that.
This isn’t an isolated incident. A couple of nights later at the CNN/Tea Party debate, members of the audience cheered when the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, asked Representative Ron Paul if we as a country should let the uninsured die if they are sick. Fortunately, Paul rejected this view, but the audience behavior during that exchange illustrates the perverse values that define the base of the Republican Party.
But those weren’t even the vilest moment of the debates. That unfortunate distinction has to be given to when audience members booed an openly gay member of the military asking a question. Rick Santorum, the candidate to whom the question was addressed, did not comment on the booing emanating from the audience. He instead answered the question as only Rick Santorum could. But he did not condemn the members of the Republican base who were booing a soldier who risked life and limb. In fact, no candidate on stage even mentioned it.
In fairness to them, they might not have heard it, so I can forgive them for not saying anything while the debate was going on. But a week has passed, and none of the major candidates, save the completely unelectable Gary Johnson, have issued any kind of statement condemning the audience’s behavior. None of them, not Romney, not Perry, not Bachmann, have said a word about this. They don’t say anything because they can’t, because they need these people’s votes to win the prize they are chasing.
Though I will never forgive John McCain for unleashing Sarah Palin upon the world, I credit him that at least he had enough sense to know when his party had gone too far. He possessed just enough leadership ability to take the microphone from the women who accused then-candidate Obama of being a secret Muslim and defended Obama from those baseless attacks.
Romney, Perry and Bachmann can’t or won’t do this. They won’t try to lead their party away from their most basic instincts. Instead, they bend to its will. They cater to the lowest common denominator in the reckless pursuit of the nomination to an extent that the Democrats never had to. It’s a disturbing spectacle to witness.
At a recent fundraiser, Obama quoted Joe Biden and said, “Don’t compare me to the almighty, compare me to the alternative.” Well, I have seen the alternative — I have seen the base they respond to, and I am deeply afraid.
Peter is a junior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.