Shouters may win town hall bat­tles but still lose the war

Mes­sage not al­ways re­ceived when the tac­tics are of­fen­sive

Houston Chronicle Sunday - - OUTLOOK - By Megan McAr­dle

I re­cently spent some time fol­low­ing a con­gress­man around the sun-baked precincts of West Texas. I watched Will Hurd meet with con­stituents, de­liver his stump speech, and wax lyri­cal about the Dairy Queen Bl­iz­zard.

I lis­tened to vot­ers tell me how much they ad­mired Hurd, a mod­er­ate Repub­li­can in the only com­pet­i­tive district in Texas. I also watched the folks who don’t ad­mire Hurd stand up and heckle to in­ter­rupt his stump speech. I won­dered: “Why are you do­ing this?”

I had spo­ken with a cou­ple of them be­fore the event, so the an­swer should have been easy. They were nice peo­ple — mid­dle-aged, mid­dle-class and pas­sion­ate about pol­i­tics. One of them was a life­long Demo­crat, an­other a former Repub­li­can who parted ways with the GOP af­ter the Tea Party be­gan to rise. Both were Demo­cratic precinct chairs. I heard their is­sues, which were about what you’d ex­pect: health care, Planned Par­ent­hood, im­mi­gra­tion, and the man sit­ting in the Oval Of­fice. Given my crit­i­cisms of the Repub­li­can health-care ef­forts, and my own qualms about Trump’s pres­i­dency, I found it easy to sym­pa­thize.

But un­der­stand­ing some­one’s goals doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean you un­der­stand the tac­tics they’ve cho­sen to reach them. I might sym­pa­thize, but not ev­ery­one there did. And the more ag­gres­sive their ques­tion­ing got, the less sym­pa­thy there seemed to be for their views.

The town hall was be­ing held in a Dairy Queen south­west of San An­to­nio; the crowd was largely white, and judg­ing from their re­ac­tion to the re­peated in­ter­rup­tions, largely con­ser­va­tive. There were rolled eyes; there were peo­ple call­ing “You asked your ques­tion.” The au­di­ence be­gan to mur­mur as the back-and-forth wore on. The next day, at a cof­fee shop in Cas­tro­ville, more pro­test­ers ar­rived, and the heck­ling got more in­tense. So did the re­ac­tion. The crowd in Cas­tro­ville seemed to be more lib­eral, more sym­pa­thetic to the pro­test­ers — but nonethe­less, a soft-

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