In the middle of last night’s debate, I actually tweeted about it because the difference was audible: Mitt Romney’s applause, for the first time that I can remember, was louder than Newt Gingrich’s. The Gingrich campaign can think of just one possible explanation as to how Mitt Romney could have inspired such a response in his audience: He must have unfairly packed the hall.
“They definitely packed the room,” Kevin Kellems, one of Gingrich’s senior advisers, told The Huffington Post early Friday morning. “The problem for them is their candidate, at several junctures, couldn’t remember what he had said before on an issue or what the fundamental truth is on a given topic. TV viewers tend to notice and remember things like that.”
A more junior member of the Gingrich campaign said in an email that it was “obvious” that the Romney campaign had worked to make sure the audience was overly favorable toward the former Massachusetts governor. …
The campaign staffer noted that the Florida Republican Party had “picked 900 plus seats.”
Florida Republican Party spokesman Brian Hughes told HuffPost in a phone interview late Thursday that the state party controlled who got roughly 900 of the 1,200 tickets issued to the debate. But he took issue with charges that the crowd was tilted toward any one candidate.
“The vast majority of [the tickets] went to rank and file. We did a very thorough job of getting them to the rank and file, vetting them to make sure they went to registered Republicans and then making sure they went out to people that were not knowingly affiliated” with any of the candidates, Hughes said.
These accusations of room-packing come closely on the heels of Gingrich’s spoken beefs with NBC’s no-audience-applause-allowed policy at Monday night’s debate. After that debate, Gingrich said, “We’re going to serve notice on future debates. 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.”
Apparently, to Gingrich and his campaign staff, the only “fair” debate is one in which (a) audience participation is allowed and (b) that audience participation works in Gingrich’s favor. After the NBC debate, his gripe seemed legitimate: The utter audience silence of the debate was strange and the bias betrayed by the moderators flat-out offensive to many viewers as well as the candidates themselves. After this debate, his complaints seem weak. Sure, he’s a great debater, but that doesn’t mean another candidate can’t possibly overshadow him in a particular showing. Even Gingrich fans admit the former Speaker’s performance last night was lackluster. Who knows? Maybe he pandered to Floridians too much: Eventually flattery offends as much as it gratifies. At this point, Gingrich just needs to take responsibility for his own poor performances and stop making excuses.
That said, though, it’d be great to watch just one well-moderated debate, one in which the questions are insightful and issues-oriented, one in which the candidates are able to capture our attention and hold it — not with attacks on each other but with compelling plans for the future of the country.