Rabble Rouser

In the last post I linked to a Steve Koracki article about Newt’s flat performance last night.

The atmosphere for the debate the Peacock network hosted in Florida Monday night was a marked departure from what we saw in South Carolina last week. Whereas Fox and CNN amped their live audiences up beforehand and encouraged boisterous responses during the proceedings, the NBC opening was comparatively sober; this time, it didn’t seem like it had been farmed out to a team of NBA producers. When moderator Brian Williams opened the telecast, the crowd was silent and respectful, and it remained so for virtually all of the next 100 minutes. …

… on Monday, there was no energy in the hall for Gingrich to feed off of, and no one on the media panel willing to step up and play his foil. From the very beginning, his responses were jarringly flat and unfocused. When an unusually sharp and focused Mitt Romney came after him hard in the debate’s early minutes, Gingrich seemed unsure how – or even whether – to engage him. And when Romney dismantled Gingrich’s defense of his lucrative Freddie Mac work like a seasoned prosecutor, the normally loquacious former speaker was literally left speechless.

Newt has been bragging about he’s the best Republican to face Barack Obama in a debate. But what we’re seeing is that Newt really isn’t a very good debater. As Kornacki says, in the South Carolina debates “all he was doing was playing to persecution complex of a fired up, rabidly partisan crowd, whose euphoric response rubbed off on like-minded viewers at home.” It may have been great political theater, but it wasn’t true debating.

Now Newt is saying he won’t allow the television debate hosts to “control” the audiences.

“I wish in retrospect I had protested when Brian Williams took [the crowd] out of it because I think it’s wrong,” he said. “I think he took them out of it because the media is terrified that the audience is going to side with the candidates against the media, which is what they’ve done in every debate.”

Gingrich’s debate performances are widely viewed as having propelled him to an overwhelming victory at Saturday’s South Carolina primary.

His fiery performances often came at the expense of the debate moderators for questions he deemed inappropriate, and the conservative crowds often rewarded the former House Speaker with applause and even a standing ovation for his attacks against the media.

But NBC asked the crowd to hold their applause until the breaks, and moderator Brian Williams didn’t offer any opportunities for Gingrich to go after him.

As a result, some of Gingrich’s attacks that might have energized his supporters at previous debates seemed to fall flat. At one point Gingrich even seemed flustered, and paused in silence to collect his thoughts.

“We’re going to serve notice on future debates that we won’t tolerate — we’re just not going to allow that to happen,” Gingrich continued. “That’s wrong — the media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be able to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly.”

Does Gingrich think he would ever be allowed to debate Barack Obama in front of a fired-up, hand-picked right-wing audience primed to applaud and hoot and holler? Is he nuts?

When Kennedy and Nixon debated in 1960, they were in a studio with no audience at all.

Imagine President Obama and Newt Gingrich in a studio debate with no audience. Heh.

5 thoughts on “Rabble Rouser

  1. In all fairness to Newt, Professional Wrestlers don’t want to fight in a quiet studio either.

    Mitt had better be sure that they stay standing in future debates. If there’s a chair, Newt might just hit him upside his carefully coiffed hair.
    I’m sure Callista would join in the fray, and kick Mitt right in his nad’s.

  2. maha,
    Did you see where Steve Benen is leaving WaMo to work with Rachel Maddow on her show?

    I’ll miss him. He was terrific and prolific. I wish him all of the luck in the world.

  3. I have this mental image of Newt in Oshkosh overalls, standing in the bed of a rusty old pickup, hawking his miracle cure to a field of rubes. Without those rubes, it’s just castor oil with a little ginger in it; but with an audience to play to, Newt the con man can make it sound like it’d raise Lazarus.

    And am I misremembering, or in past general elections weren’t audiences at the debates always cautioned not to applaud? So we’re electing the next American Idol now?

    Yeesh. Idiots.

  4. Somebody in the liberal blogosphere observed that that the previous ‘debates’ had the character and dignity of the Jerry Springer Show. This is the carnival atmosphere that Palin generated with pre-Tea Party patriots spitting on news people. It’s not Mitt’s style, but Newt manages it well. I suspect the mainstream voter will be repulsed, which was McCain’s reason for squelching it.

    How might this play? Mitt’s piles of money and the attack ads plus incessant robocalls *could* backfire in the primary season. Especcially if Santorum quits early. If Newt pulls down the nomination in this way, my gut feeling is that he will imploded early in the general election – and it will show in the polls. Still in hypothetical mode, the question is how much of the Tea Party bad mojo will rub off in the Congressional elections. Because the legislative elections are just as critical as the presidential election.

  5. Pingback: Video: Thoughts on the GOP and Newt | Thoughts and Rantings

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