Gingrich criticizes ban on audience participation in Florida debate

Presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich today threatened to boycott future debates that limit audience participation, following Monday's Republican debate in Florida where the audience was instructed to keep quiet.

Debate moderator Brian Williams, NBC News anchor, told the audience not to applaud during Monday night’s debate in Tampa, according to the Associated Press, and Gingrich seemed less dynamic than in the previous debates in South Carolina, when he’d whipped up the raucous crowd.

According to the AP:

Gingrich was an audience favorite at the two debates in South Carolina, particularly when he admonished debate moderator John King of CNN for bringing up the subject of ex-wife Marianne Gingrich and her allegation that Gingrich had sought an “open marriage” as he was having an affair with the woman now his wife, Callista. Audience members applauded and cheered Gingrich’s criticism of King as well as some of his policy statements.

More from GlobalPost: Newt Gingrich attacks 'vicious' media during heated South Carolina TV debate

Gingrich won the South Carolina Republican primary on Jan. 21 with 40.4 percent of the vote.

"I wish, in retrospect, I protested when Brian Williams took them out of it, because I think it's wrong,” Gingrich told Fox News today. “The media doesn’t control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to. It was almost silly.”

A spokesman said later that Gingrich would attend all debates, but the candidate would complain again if he felt a debate’s rules muzzled the crowd, MSNBC reported.

Rival candidate Mitt Romney observed to reporters today that the rules for general-election debates, set by the Presidential Debate Commission, are even stricter about limiting audience participation, the AP reported. Since Gingrich would be required to fall in line if he won the Republican nomination, “he better learn to debate in all settings,” Romney quipped.

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