HATE, FEAR, AND IGNORANCE…. On CNN last night, David Gergen, a Republican advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton, commented on the “anger” evident at McCain/Palin rallies of late. “There is this free floating sort of whipping around anger that could really lead to some violence,” Gergen said. “I think we’re not far from that.”

When Anderson Cooper expressed skepticism about whether violence was likely, Gergen said he “really worries” given “the kind of rhetoric” coming from the Republican ticket.

When a mainstream, Republican presidential advisor goes on national television and expresses concern that Republican voters might literally become violent in response to the Republican presidential ticket’s rhetoric, it’s safe to say we’ve reached a rather dramatic point.

This week has been unusually incendiary. The McCain campaign has deliberately been whipping the angry, far-right Republican base into a frenzy. That includes increasing frequency of “Hussein” references, but it also includes looking the other way while campaign supporters exclaim “treason!,” “terrorist!,” and “kill him!” during official rallies.

On Wednesday, during a McCain harangue against Obama, one man could be heard yelling, “Off with his head!” On Thursday, Republicans erupted when an unhinged McCain supporter ranted about “socialists taking over our country.” Instead of calming them down, McCain said the lunatic was “right.”

The Republicans want an angry mob, they need hysterical supporters, and so they’ve stoked the fires of hate, fear, and ignorance. It’s become a surprisingly toxic cocktail.

Both the Washington Post and the Politico have good items today on the explosive, enraged emotions at this week’s Republican rallies. Slate’s John Dickerson described the participants’ “bloodthirsty” tone.

There are, obviously, more than a few questions to consider. Will McCain/Palin push their enraged mob into committing acts of violence? (We can hope not.) Will the hysterical Republican base consider Obama/Biden legitimate if they win in November? (I doubt it.)

And then there’s the practical question: will the combination of hate, fear, and ignorance actually pay off on Election Day? Polls show Obama leading now, but the truth is, most of these polls were taken before McCain turned the Rage-o’-Meter to 11. How will mainstream voters react?

Time will obviously answer that question soon enough, but I found John Weaver’s perspective especially interesting.

John Weaver, McCain’s former top strategist, said top Republicans have a responsibility to temper this behavior.

“People need to understand, for moral reasons and the protection of our civil society, the differences with Senator Obama are ideological, based on clear differences on policy and a lack of experience compared to Senator McCain,” Weaver said. “And from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive.”

Weaver added that the Republican Party should be “ashamed” if it allows this to continue. Given what we’ve seen of late, they should be ashamed anyway.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.