Over a thousand political demonstrators were confined to a "free speech zone"
more than a mile away from the media assembled for the Republican presidential debate at St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH.
After going through airport-style security (there were literally TSA and Secret Service agents inspecting bags) to enter the building, we were one of the very few reporters who decided to leave the considerable comforts of the Google-branded media room to make the long walk up a winding road leading to a snowy hill where throngs of people held signs promoting their preferred candidate or issue. The demonstrators seemed to be aware of the marginalized status, which they expressed by booing the media shuttle buses passing by.
Among the crowd, there was a sizable presence of Bernie Sanders supporters, as well as Black Lives Matters and "Fight For 15" protesters agitating for raising the minimum wage.
Performance artist and sometime presidential candidate Vermin Supreme was also
there, wearing the trademark black boot on his head and carrying a giant toothbrush. If elected, he promised to create a fossil fuel-independent energy policy by giving every American a pony.
Naturally, the majority of the crowd was there to show support for their favorite Republican candidates. We couldn't find any Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush or Ben Carson supporters, and just one Carly Fiorina booster, who told us he was there to protest her exclusion from the debate stage and that he "liked her blueprint for change," but couldn't name any of her policies he supported.
The largest contingents were there for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, with a handful of very loud Donald Trump and Chris Christie boosters. Evoking the scientifically-proven phenomenon of pet owners resembling their pets, the demonstrators largely shared the temperaments of their favorite candidates.
A Kasich-backer spoke slowly, deliberately and politely while praising the Ohio governor's "positive" campaign, as well as what he described as Kasich's considerable legislative accomplishments focused on creating policy through pragmatism and compromise.
Chris Christie's supporters were the loudest, chanting "Who Do We Want? Christie!"
One supporter said, "He's got experience as a prosecutor, he's tough, intelligent, and we live in a very unsafe world. I think he'll keep us safe." One anti-Christie protester said he drove all the way from New Jersey to protest the governor's veto of a 2012 bill that would have legalized gay marriage in the Garden State. He said he wanted to be there "when Christie's campaign goes up in flames, which will hopefully be tonight."
A husband and wife duo wearing "Make America Great Again" caps told Reason they support Donald Trump because they think "it's time to have a businessman in the White House" and "the government should be run like a business." They added that they don't believe Trump's brash style will be a problem as president, and that "he's playing the media" to get free media coverage "really cheaply." The husband said he doesn't believe Trump truly intends to ban Muslims from entering the country and noted that his wife, also a Trump supporter, is Lebanese (though not a Muslim).
One Ted Cruz supporter called him a "strong Constitutional conservative" and said he liked Rand Paul, but couldn't get behind his non-interventionist foreign policy. He added that libertarians' aversion to "defending the country" is what will keep them marginalized within the Republican Party.
We asked a young man in his early 20s named Zachary Zupan if the liberty-inclined voters who backed Rand Paul before he dropped out of the race should switch their allegiances to the Texas senator. Zupan replied Cruz "is the natural choice for people who supported Rand Paul" and "he is the only person advocating any kind of military restraint on our side of the aisle. He's not going to invade Libya or topple Assad like Rubio has said he would."
Zupan added that he considers himself "somewhat libertarian" and that libertarians should take a look at the remaining GOP field and assess "who best advances the cause of liberty. Nobody's perfect, but Cruz is the only candidate left who values libertarians and will give them a place at the table."