By Ed Holliday
Grant Sowell and I represented the Tupelo Tea Party as tea party groups across America converged on Tampa, Fla., on Monday night for the CNN/Tea Party Express Republican Presidential debate.
The Tupelo Tea Party was one of the groups that turned in questions that were picked to help shape the debate. The debate made history because it was the first time the Tea Party sponsored a presidential debate. Grant and I had what could only be described as 50-yard-line seats on the front row in the mobile studio placed inside a special events building on the Florida State Fairgrounds. CNN had reserved the front seats for groups that had helped write the questions and for individuals who actually asked some of the questions. CNN’s moderator Wolf Blitzer asked CNN follow-up questions but most of the questions came from everyday citizens. CNN also hosted events for local tea party participants in political swing states like Ohio and Virginia with questions via live remotes from the Tea Party affiliates in those states.
Wolf Blitzer told the live audience before the debate began that moderating with eight candidates was tough. He said it was much easier when the field was narrowed down to three or four. Wolf coolly moved across the stage as the camera crew followed him and the candidates. The response of the live audience in reaction to the candidates’ answers was one of the major differences from watching a debate on television. Another major difference was the ability to actually see all the candidates’ reactions to what was being said rather than being limited to the camera angle presented to the television viewer.
All the candidates came into the debate knowing that the audience would be primarily people associated with Tea Party groups from across America. There is no one leader in the Tea Party movement and therefore you can have the devoted libertarians of Ron Paul, the cowboy philosophers of Rick Perry, the anti-politician fans of Herman Cain, die hard fiscal and social conservatives rallying for Michelle Bachmann, then the brute Newts who like Gingrich and overlook his personal failures and long-term relationship to the Republican establishment, and a few rally behind Rick Santorium’s firm conservative stands. That leaves the lukewarm reception for Mitt Romney and the almost non-acceptance of the former governor of Utah, John Huntsman by Tea Party people nationwide.
It is not slighting the Tea Party to say it is a diverse group that cannot be pleased by everyone. A few boos were heard during the debate and many answers did not satisfy all in the audience, but the fact that CNN and the tea party worked together made the historic event a positive recognition that the Tea Party movement itself will have an influence the upcoming election season.
An outrageous outburst came from a lone individual who blurted out the word “Yes!” in a very inappropriate time. When speaking of the health insurance issue, Wolf asked the physician/ congressman Ron Paul a follow up question. He asked what Paul would do in a hypothetical situation where a young man in a coma and no medical insurance was found? Wolf asked, “Would you just let him die?” One audience member shouted out yes. It was outrageous and repugnant and not the consensus of the other 99.9 percent of the audience. But many in the left-wing media used that one point to cast the entire audience as saying yes to death. Such inappropriate actions of one should not take away from the positive citizen interaction with candidates that might one day be in the White House.
The leader of the Tea Party Express, Amy Kremer, had been going strong from 5 a.m. non-stop until an after-debate get together to watch its replay was winding down about 3 a.m. That was packing in a 22 hour day. Amy told us it was worth the time and energy to let the nation know that the Tea Party movement had arrived and will make its presence known in the politics of both major political parties.
Dr. Ed Holliday is a Tupelo dentist who has written two successful books. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.