Republican presidential candidate Ohio Gov. John Kasich speaks to members of the media in the spin room following the first Republican presidential debate at the Quicken Loans Arena, Aug. 6, 2015, in Cleveland.
Photo by Andrew Harnik/AP

Modest evidence of real progress in Cleveland

One of the surprises of the Republican presidential nominating contest four years ago was, of all things, the debate audiences. While the GOP candidates themselves offered plenty of fodder, it was Republicans who attended the debates as spectators who quickly became a story of their own.
In one particularly memorable – and particularly ugly – moment, an American serviceman stationed in Iraq appeared on video to ask the candidates about Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, and audience members booed him. The candidates said nothing.
Fast forward four years, and note what happened last night with Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) on a related issue. MSNBC’s Aliyah Frumin reported:
Kasich also drew applause when asked the thorny question about what he would do if his child were gay. The governor said that while he believes in traditional marriage, the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage and “we’ll accept it,” adding he recently went to a gay friend’s wedding.
He continued, “If one of my daughters happened to be that, of course I would love them and accept them. Because you know what? That’s what we’re taught when we have strong faith.”
Did the debate audience boo? Actually, no. It applauded.
I suppose it’s best not to go overboard in congratulating the audience for basic human decency. The whole soft-bigotry-of-low-expectations dynamic comes to mind.
But once in a while, there are symbolic moments that capture a larger significance. Four years ago, a gay American soldier was booed for wanting to be able to serve openly, and a stage full of GOP candidates were too cowardly to defend him.
Last night, Kasich not only took a more progressive posture, he was applauded by a Republican audience, and faced no pushback whatsoever from his rivals.
It was at this moment that I suspect more than a few right-wing culture warriors realized the degree to which they’ve lost.