Gary Johnson's return to the Republican debates was supposed to have potential to add a voice for gay rights to the stage, and so the former New Mexico governor is feeling regret for not speaking out against the booing of a gay soldier.
In a video played during the last debate, soldier Stephen Hill asked whether any of the nominees on stage would bring back "don't ask, don't tell" if elected. Jeers from the crowd could be heard in response just before Rick Santorum started into his answer.
"The booing that occurred last night at the event is not the Republican Party that I belong to," Johnson said on MSNBC. "It happened. It's a group of individuals that booed. I was chomping at the bit to be able to respond to that. In retrospect, I really regret maybe not putting my fist down and pounding it."
Johnson has been allowed into only one of the Republican debates — the first one in South Carolina which wasn't attended by any top-tier candidates.
"I've been excluded from these debates and I'm feeling a little bit like I'm walking on eggshells," Johnson explained to Rev. Al Sharpton on MSNBC. (Watch the video below.) "I shouldn't have done that. If I have one regret from last evening, it's that I didn't stand up and say, you're booing a U.S. servicemen who is denied being able to express his sexual preference, that's not right. And there is something very, very wrong with that. And when it came to 'don't ask, don't tell,' I think we should have repealed that a long time ago."
Johnson has a track record of sticking it to his party for taking antigay positions that he says weaken their standing with voters, even condemning then-frontrunner Mitt Romney for signing an antigay pledge from the National Organization for Marriage.
None of the candidates acknowledged the booing at the time. (Santorum had the first chance but later claimed he didn't hear the boos.) Here's a roundup from ABC News of how each candidate has reacted since the incident.
Mitt Rommney, Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich have denied the chance to answer questions from reporters about the incident. Ron Paul hasn't responded.
Michele Bachmann's spokesman answered a question by issuing a "no comment" on the record: “There was booing and cheering throughout the debate – Michele didn’t comment on any of it,” Alice Stewart said according to ABC News.
Herman Cain to ABC News: “If you don’t have time to explain your whole position on that, you can very easily be taken out of context so I don’t even want to comment on that.”
It Was Wrong
Gary Johnson's statement on MSNBC is above.
Rick Santorum to Fox News: "I condemn the people who booed that gay soldier. That soldier is serving our country. I thank him for his service for our country. I'm sure he's doing an excellent job, and I hope he returns safely."
Jon Hunstman to ABC News: "When someone in uniform asks a question of a panelist in this case, the first response should be thanking the soldier for his or her service. We all wear the same uniform in America. We all salute the same flag I have two boys starting their journey in the U.S military. We should take more time to thank them for their services as opposed to finding differences based on background or orientation."
Openly gay presidential candidate Fred Karger was not allowed into the debate but did react to the incident via Twitter: "Booing a U.S. soldier is despicable, un-American and should be condemned," he wrote.