Romney calls his supporters’ heckling of Obama ‘free speech’
While the campaign to re-elect President Barack Obama has made it clear that they do not support attempts to heckle political opponents on the campaign trail, the Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)’s campaign has refused to take a stand against the practice, according to an article in the Boston Globe.
On Tuesday, Romney said in a Fox News Radio interview that while it would “be a nice thing” if both campaigns refrained from engaging in disrupting each other’s rallies, he doesn’t believe in “unilateral disarmament.” He attempted to portray heckling as a First Amendment issue, citing “a “long history of heckling and free speech” in American politics.
This comes in the wake of an incident in May in which Romney not only declined to condemn a group of aides who disrupted a speech by Obama’s senior strategist David Axelrod, but actually went so far as to endorse the hecklers, saying, “If the president is going to have his people come in to my rallies and heckle, why, we’ll show them we conservatives have the same kind of capacity he does.”
Protests and incidents of heckling have dogged both campaigns thus far in the election cycle, with anti-Romney protesters forcing the former governor to abandon plans to stop at one Wawa gas and convenience store in Quakerstown, Pennsylvania over the weekend. President Obama was heckled in the Rose Garden by a writer from The Daily Caller on Friday as he announced his immigration reform initiative.
Over the weekend, Axelrod condemned the practice and asked that supporters of the president not engage in heckling for the remainder of Romney’s Michigan bus tour and the rest of the campaign. Romney’s campaign, on the other hand, has issued no such directive and seems, in fact, to be including the tactic as a part of its campaign strategy.
Steve Benen at the Maddowblog wrote, “Keep in mind, we’re talking about a fairly specific, deliberate plan from Romney Campaign HQ. They sent hecklers to disrupt an Obama campaign event in May, and last week, Team Romney sent its bus to circle an Obama event in Cleveland, honking its horn repeatedly, for no other reason than to be obnoxious. It’s presidential politics at a junior-high-school level.”
According to the Globe, the Obama campaign “sent a strong message to its supporters that the campaign should be about an open exchange of ideas, not drowning out the other side by heckling and crashing events.”
Campaign representative Ben LaBolt said, “Campaigns are a reflection of their candidate. Mitt Romney has a different view, endorsing heckling.”