There probably haven't been this many grumpy people under one roof since the Koch brothers last dined alone.
When a crowd bursts out in applause in support of allowing a terminally ill patient without health insurance to simply die, you know you're not dealing with a bunch of namby-pamby St. Francis of Assisi hand-wringing do-gooders.
Pol Pot had more compassion.
The truculent faithful started lining up for the CNN/Tea Party Express presidential debate Monday at the Florida State Fairgrounds under a hot sun, which only seemed to make some of these folks testier.
"You're a liar," grumbled local tea party gadfly Tim Curtis. Well, it was nice to see you, too!
Curtis got his spats in a wad because I had once described him as a politician during a candidate forum I moderated. My slander was based on the fact that Curtis had announced his candidacy for an eventually failed bid for Congress. He was raising money, asking people for votes, showing up at debates and running a campaign organization — all things politicians do.
So sure, I had naturally assumed Tim Curtis was a politician. In my defense, though, I never said he was any good at it.
That sort of antipathy toward politicians was evident throughout the Tea Party Express pitchfork-fest as the eight presidential candidates on hand more often came off as if they were applying for a Torquemada scholarship.
This wasn't really a debate on the great issues of the day to become the leader of the Free World, but rather an exercise in ideological purity one-upmanship.
Good grief, even 135-year-old tea party centerfold Ron Paul, the beefcake boy of libertarianism who moves less nimbly than Captain Ahab, managed to get himself booed. This would have been a bit like Lady Gaga getting heckled during the Mardi Gras parade.
But wait, it only gets more loopy.
At one point, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman suggested Texas Gov. Rick Perry was flirting with treason simply because Perry believes trying to build a 1,200-mile fence along the border is a crazy idea. Now Perry may very well possess the intellectual firepower of a Lhasa apso, but opposing a border fence for pragmatic reasons hardly rises to the level of becoming the Lord Haw Haw of the Rio Grande.
Later in the spin room, even Huntsman's spinners were flummoxed over the treason allegation. When the best explanation your surrogates can come up with is "Beats me," it might suggest the campaign is getting close to toe-tag status.
Perry hardly helped himself when he responded to an allegation by Michele Bachmann, who makes a Stepford Wife look like Gloria Steinem, that he issued an executive order mandating young girls be vaccinated against the human papillomavirus because he received a $5,000 campaign contribution from the drug manufacturer Merck.
"If you're saying I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended," Perry shot back, as if to suggest it takes a heckuva lot more than $5,000 in chump change to buy him off. Who says there are no standards anymore?
A simple question. Rick Santorum. Why?
This guy, who has less of a chance of winning his party's nomination than Tom DeLay, spent most of his time on stage bragging about his courage. Not quite. Police officers are courageous. Our military fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are courageous. Spending 12 years blabbering on the floor of the U.S. Senate and collecting checks from lobbyists does not compare to Medal of Honor recipients.
Which brings us to Herman Cain. On second thought, why bother?
You may have noticed that up to this point, the words Republican Party have not appeared in these scribblings. Why should they?
In her opening remarks, Tea Party Express co-chair Amy Kremer, after all the usual yada-yada-yada about taking the country back blah-blah-blah, told the assembled crowd as they fingered their nooses and stirred their tar pots that it is the tea party that "is going to choose the next president, not the Republican Party."
And not one of the eight pandering sycophants on the stage had the intellectual honesty to respond to Kremer's demagoguery by saying something like: "Excuse me, but I'm running to capture the Republican Party nomination for the presidency of the United States. I'm a Republican first and proud of it. Really, one of the biggest miscalculations my party ever made was giving you folks any credibility. And while I certainly welcome any support I can get, I'm not campaigning to become the leader of a foaming-at-the-mouth political cult. Frankly, I'm only here tonight to get some national face time on CNN."
Now that would have taken some political courage.