Diva: Newt Won't Attend Debates without Cheering Audiences

Kate Hicks

1/24/2012 11:54:00 AM - Kate Hicks

The Great Debater might be willing to self-deport (heh) from future rhetorical contests if the moderators silence the audiences, as Brian Williams did last night in Florida. On Fox and Friends this morning, the former Speaker of the House threatened to boycott the debates if "the media" insists on 'stifling free speech.'

His performance in last night's debate wasn't as sharp as in previous matchups, and even Gingrich blames the lack of audience support:

Mr. Gingrich’s performance in the debate in Tampa on Monday night was far more muted. Critics noted that he seemed to be off his game. The National Journal, which co-hosted the NBC debate, compared Gingrich to “a stand-up comedian whose routine suffers without echoes of laughter egging him on.”

Mr. Gingrich clearly noticed something was off, too. “We’re going to serve notice on future debates,” he told Fox. “We’re just not going to allow that to happen. That’s wrong. The media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to.”

Gingrich essentially admits that he uses the audience as a crutch in order to be an effective debater -- but if screaming fans are how he wins debates, and debates are how he beats Obama (as he said himself last night!), then he has no chance in the general election. Think back to 2008: audience reaction was banned in all three presidential debates.

I realize she's little more than a Romney acolyte, but Jen Rubin at the Washington Post makes a great point:

This is one more indication that Gingrich is not a general-election candidate. In the presidential debates they don’t allow audience reaction either. At the start of the Sept. 26, 2008, debate Jim Lehrer explained: “The audience here in the hall has promised to remain silent, no cheers, no applause, no noise of any kind, except right now, as we welcome Senators Obama and McCain.”

A Mitt Romney adviser had this reaction when I asked him about audience participation: “The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the guidelines for the general election. They don’t allow audience participation. So it makes sense to select a nominee who can thrive under real-time conditions. If a candidate can’t deliver a good performance without a cheering section, it’s like picking an Olympic athlete to swim for us who is afraid of water. “

Now, Romney certainly didn't put up a perfect performance, and I'm not going to say he's the man to beat Obama in the general. But the lack of applause didn't seem to faze him -- certainly, he's not out there today promising to be a no-show if he doesn't have his fan club. Newt has showed his hand in the last few days, revealing what Guy refers to as the "Gingrich Debate Delusion." If Newt needs an audience, the perhaps we need a different candidate.