The most common reponse: yawn.
In an unexpected turn of events, Newt Gingrich and the “elite media” he so often decries seemed to agree on something: NBC should not have muzzled the audience during Monday’s GOP debate.
Gingrich went on Fox News Tuesday morning to criticize NBC and the debate’s moderator, Brian Williams, accusing them of limiting free speech.
Of course, this was still a jab at the media, just a specific channel and anchor.
"I wish in retrospect I'd protested when Brian Williams took them out of it because I think it's wrong,' Gingrich said. He added that NBC was afraid the audience would side with the candidates against the media, as they have all along.
While Gingrich has been an audience darling at many of the debates, this brings to mind the most recent contest, in which the audience piled on CNN’s John King for starting off the contest with a question about accusations being leveled at Gingrich by his ex-wife Marianne. (Mind you, Gingrich later praised King for his performance).
The former Speaker of the House promised in future debates that he was “not going to allow” the moderators to silence the supportive audience.
While Gingrich has his own selfish reasons for doing this, encouraging a more lively audience is something almost everyone agreed on.
From Erick Erickson (somewhat biased as a CNN contributor) to the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, most observers ranged from just unsettled to irate (well, at least Piers Morgan was ranting).
“Good news! NBC returned all the mannequins they used as audience tonight to Macy's ahead of schedule,” Erickson tweeted.
“After decidedly raucous — probably too raucous — debate audiences in both of last week’s presidential debates, the stony silence in which the audience in Tampa sat was vaguely unnerving,” Cillizza wrote Tuesday.
While many critics noted the lack of an audience, many were the same people shocked by the audience's cheery reaction in past debates to, say, the death of an uninsured person.
So it seems there's no way for the news media to win, and that's just how Gingrich likes it.
As for future noise level, CNN's contest Thursday is assured to be rowdier, but this more sedate state of affairs is a better forecast of general election debates.
That is, of course, unless Gingrich gets his way and stages seven three-hour Lincoln-Douglas debates, as he has promised all along.
If that happens, a muzzle may not be necessary. The audience may just fall asleep.
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