Sen. McCain on debates: Audience applause is a ‘waste of time’

While Newt Gingrich says his campaign will “serve notice on future debates” that audience applause should be allowed, another former Republican presidential candidate calls the raucous reaction a “waste of time.”

Sen. John McCain, who went head to head against then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008, says cheering and jeering from debate watchers “just takes up the time you’d otherwise be hearing from the candidates.”

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The Arizona Republican this month endorsed Mitt Romney in the GOP race for the White House and campaigned with the former Massachusetts governor in South Carolina ahead of a CNN debate there.

Gingrich received two standing ovations at the debate after moderator John King asked him about a claim by an ex-wife that the lawmaker wanted an “open marriage.” The former House Speaker went on to win the South Carolina primary easily.

Yet an NBC News debate Monday in Florida took on a decidedly quieter tone as the audience was asked to remain tight-lipped. NBC political reporter Chuck Todd revealed in a Monday night message sent over Twitter that the crowd was reminded that “their clapping could eat into debate time.”

Critics dubbed the library-like debate a snoozer. New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote, “This was a boring debate. Perhaps it was the atmospherics … The quiet room made every line land softly.”

But McCain counters, “What’s it supposed to be, a way for the voters to understand the candidates’ positions on the issues and articulate that, or is it a way to whip up the crowd? I happen to think it’s the former.”

Gingrich went on the attack in a Tuesday interview on Fox News, saying that he thinks keeping an audience mum is “wrong,” adding, “I think [moderator Brian Williams] 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.”

And as far as upcoming debates, starting with one on Thursday, Gingrich claims, “we’re just not going to allow that to happen.”