The participant we most hope to hear from in tonight’s GOP debate is the audience. Muzzled on Monday by an unusually stern Brian Williams (the possibilities for humor are endless, but debate moderators have taken enough abuse of late), audience members responded with stoic acceptance. There was little to relish in the resulting chat-up, and it appeared obvious that the bombastic Newt Gingrich felt most hampered by the New Quietism.
Let the audience react! insists Mr. Gingrich, who has threatened not to participate in any future debate where the audience has been instructed to be silent. Yes! we agree. Loudly, with standing ovation.
The best thing about this multitude of debates has been the utter delight in knowing that all of America is getting to see Republicans being Republicans. What used to be done in back rooms, or "quiet rooms," as Mitt Romney terms his ideal of secretive government, what used to be done under the cover of white hoods and bed sheets, is now made public, for all of America to see. Let America see Republicans cheering for the death penalty and the unplugging of coma victims. Let America hear them – and watch them – boo one of our (gay) soldiers and boo the word "Mexico." Indeed, we hope for more visuals, more pans of the audience as they work themselves into corpulent frenzy, cuts to their screaming faces reminiscent of "America’s Got Talent," the collective anger of Unfit White Men Behaving Badly.
Eighteen debates. How many more? Fifty – was that the number bandied about? Thank you again, whatever mole the Democrats inserted into the GOP leadership cabal. (Ahem.) (See our previous column dated Jan. 21, "Michael Steele – Our Own Kim Philby?") Somebody actually thought this would be a good idea for Republicans. Remarkable.
The GOP has staked its political survival for decades on scapegoating. It’s worked, in the short run. Identify an outgroup, vilify it, rally the base against its evils and its dangers. It doesn’t matter who the outgroup consists of – African-Americans, gays, latinos, Muslims, homosexuals – just beat them with a stick and hope the other primates who kinda look like you will jump in on your side. It’s the bully factor, writ nationally. Works every time – in the short run.
In the long run, the GOP has lost those groups, and it doesn’t stand a chance in hell of getting them back. Huge blocks of voters, forever lost. Ninety-plus percent of African-Americans. Sixty-five percent of latinos. An uncertain percentage of homosexuals, but doubtless most (with the exception of all the closeted gays in Republican leadership positions, but that will be the stuff of future writings.)
This unprecedented primary makes the guts of the Republican party transparent, everything they’re about, from the plutocracy of Romney to the demagoguery of Gingrich. The Republicans wanted a referendum on the president. What they’re going to get is a referendum on their own party, a party that has failed, repeatedly, when given power, and has moved so far outside the mainstream of American life as to be unrecognizable.
We reiterate: Please let the Republican audience react. Encourage them, even. Toss the red meat, Newt. America is watching.