Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Tuesday warned that he might not participate in future debates if moderators didn't allow his fans to cheer.
NBC News had asked the audience at Monday night's debate in Florida to hold their applause until the commercial breaks -- and Gingrich was perceived to have done significantly worse than in previous debates.
"I wish in retrospect that I had protested when [NBC moderator] Brian Williams took them out of it," Gingrich told Fox News Tuesday. "I think it's wrong. And 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."
"We're going to serve notice on future debates. We're just not going to allow that to happen," he added. "That's wrong. The media doesn't control free speech. People ought to be allowed to applaud if they want to."
Gingrich's performances at debates in South Carolina were thought to have contributed to his landslide victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in that state's primary.
A survey (PDF) released Monday by the Democratically-affiliated Public Policy Polling (PPP) firm showed Gingrich leading Romney, 38 percent to 33 percent. Gallup's daily tracking poll on Tuesday indicated that the two GOP candidates were in a virtual tie nationally.
But it could be advisable for Gingrich to get used to debating without the comfort of audience reaction. In all three of the 2008 general election debates between then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama and then-Republican nominee John McCain, audiences were asked to refrain from making noise.