Scenes From the Campaign Trail

Imagine it's the 2008 primary season. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, Bill Richardson, and the other candidates troop up to Vermont for a candidate forum. The questioners, who ask a series of questions demanding fealty to a variety of liberal principles, are Bernie Sanders, Maxine Waters, and Noam Chomsky.

OK, you couldn't imagine that. Because it would never happen, not in a million years. Not only would the candidates never agree to it, even Sanders, Waters, and Chomsky would probably think it's a bad idea. But that's pretty much what happened yesterday. Most of the Republican candidates went to South Carolina and appeared one at a time before a kind of ultra-right inquisition, with Jim DeMint (probably the most conservative member of the Senate), Steve King (one of the most conservative members of the House), and conservative philosopher Robert George acting as the inquisitors.

And that's the difference between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. It's often said, and it's absolutely true, that Republicans fear their base while Democrats hate theirs. But Republicans also know that they really aren't going to be punished for this sort of thing. By now, it's just expected -- of course, they pander to their craziest elements. Democrats won't bother to make too much of a stink about it, and reporters won't treat it as anything out of the ordinary.