Some Republicans are crowing today about Phil Murphy being “booed off the stage” last night.
Democrats, meanwhile, were condemning alleged mob-like tactics of Jack Ciattarelli supporters at the debate.
It was a raucous affair, not so much between the candidates, but among the audience.
Some blame Donald Trump for everything; others point to pandemic frustration.
No matter the reason, the line between political events and reality TV is pretty blurry these days.
It’s not only gubernatorial debates. Other public meetings of late, most notably school board meetings, often are punctuated by critics, some of whom know little about procedure and decorum, yelling and screaming.
Tuesday’s debate at Rowan University was marked by frequent booing and jeering.
At one point, one of the questioners, David Cruz, bluntly told Ciattarelli that it was his supporters who were making it difficult for the candidate to hear.
And other times, you could hear Murphy supporters making their feelings known.
All that was during the main part of the debate.
“I wasn’t flustered at all,” Murphy said today during his routine briefing, a much more peaceful environment.
The governor added that, “there was a lot of emotion in that hall,” but that he wasn’t necessarily bothered by that.
But he did lament the fact that the crowd response limited the number of questions.
“There were probably two or three questions left on the table,” he said. “That to me is a disservice to the voters.”
When we came to closing statements. Ciattarelli went first.
When Murphy spoke, he made a reference to Confederate flags and white supremacy on the ballot.
This was a stretch.
It is true that Ciattarelli attended and spoke at a so-called Stop the Steal rally last year in Bedminster. Confederate flags, and by logical extension, white supremacist sentiments, are generally a part of Trump events.
Still, there is no evidence Ciattarelli himself likes waving the Stars and Bars.
Then again, politics is a game of exaggerations. Both sides do it.
So in that context, Murphy’s comments were not out of line. But they also inflamed his opponents.
The reaction was quick. After Confederate flags and white supremacy were mentioned, the booing began.
Then there was cheering from the Murphy contingent.
Murphy finished his closing statement shouting to be heard over the combination of jeers and cheers.
More than once during the debate, and especially during the governor’s closing statement, the moderators urged the crowd to keep quiet, but to no avail.
Politics is a contact sport. But at a debate like this one, there also should be a willingness to listen to people even if you disagree with them.
The only solution going forward is to have debates of this type without an audience.
That would be a pity.