GREENVILLE, South Carolina — Corey Lewandowski, the campaign manager for 2016 GOP frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump, bashed the Republican National Committee (RNC) for stacking the debate audience here with pro-amnesty consultant class party donor figures.
Lewandowski told Breitbart News in the spin room after the debate:
I think the RNC does a terrible job in allocating the tickets, to be honest with you, There’s an opportunity—there’s 2,000 seats out there, there’s six candidates on stage, they should just divide them evenly so everyone has them, but instead they just give them to the donor class, they give them to the lobbyists and to all the special interests. It’s not fair, it’s not equitable. So I think what they should do moving forward is take the total number of seats available, allocate them across the board and let the candidates bring their people in, because that’s who should be here, not the donors.
Repeatedly throughout the debate, the audience cheered as former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his protegé Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) consistently and repeatedly made the case to grant amnesty to illegal aliens, while the audience oddly booed both Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) as they made eloquent cases against amnesty.
“I don’t think it’s representative of the people of South Carolina,” Lewandowski added. “Those who don’t have the resources to give large sums of money to the RNC didn’t get a ticket here tonight and that’s a shame on the RNC.”
Trump’s campaign was hardly the only one upset with how the debate turned out as it relates to how audience tickets are handed out. Both Reps. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) bashed the establishment for stacking the audience with donor class folks not representative of America or of South Carolina’s electorate. Duncan and Meadows have both endorsed Cruz for president and were representing his campaign in the spin room.
“I was a little disappointed in CBS and the moderators in that they kind of let the debate and the crowd get out of control,” Duncan told Breitbart News, adding that the pro-amnesty cheers and boos aren’t representative of his state.
“It doesn’t represent the voters of South Carolina,” Duncan said. “Definitely, the room was stacked for Rubio—there’s no doubt about it, especially from where I was sitting. But look, I thought Ted Cruz had a great night and I thought he made a great point about the economy and about how he’d unleash an unbridled entrepreneurial spirit with less taxes and less regulation.”
When asked if the party was trying to game the system to help the establishment candidates like Rubio and Bush, Duncan said “yeah” but added that it probably won’t work, since most of the audience were donors imported into the state by party bosses.
“It depends on how it came across on TV,” Duncan said. “This is a small smattering of folks, and most of them are not from South Carolina. I don’t think Donald Trump had a great debate—he came across to a South Carolina audience as a little brash.”
Meadows added that he thinks the debate lacked focus on issues that people from Main Street—not from K Street or Wall Street, like the donor class—care about. Meadows said:
Obviously it was a fairly contentious debate as you start to see that, the feathers were flying so to speak. I think what most people want us to focus on are what’s going on on Main Street and what’s the key there. Being able to address those policy concerns, obviously it felt like Sen. Cruz had a very strong night tonight as he was able to articulate not only on national security but the economy as well—two things that affect not only the people of South Carolina but also my state of North Carolina and across the country.
Meadows added that the support for amnesty on display in the donor-packed audience this evening wasn’t just counter to South Carolina or North Carolina values, but run counter to American values.
“I can tell you from an amnesty standpoint, that’s not a South Carolina value, that’s not a North Carolina value—it’s really not a value that most people across the country support,” Meadows said. “I can tell you that no matter where you are on the immigration issue, ‘amnesty’ is that word that quite turns most people the other way. So I was surprised to hear some of the clapping as it related to that, perhaps an uninformed clap.”
Meadows also said that he doesn’t think an audience of ordinary people on Main Street would have applauded amnesty plans from Rubio and Bush while booing Trump and Cruz being against amnesty, as happened in the audience this evening.
“It’s hard to say—I can tell you that when you go on Main Street and you’re not at a debate, the amount of applause you got to hear on different topics doesn’t necessarily correspond to what you heard in the auditorium tonight,” Meadows said.
The RNC’s Sean Spicer, asked to comment on these concerns from the two top-polling presidential campaigns here in South Carolina—the only two campaigns to have actually won a state, Iowa or New Hampshire, that has voted already—said that while party donors did receive tickets this was the best debate yet for candidates.
“Each candidate received the greatest number tickets than any prior debate and overall the candidates received the largest share of tickets,” Spicer said in an email.
Spicer hasn’t answered, however, if future debates will see candidates represented better–and if the party will do as Lewandowski is calling for by eliminating donor tickets and giving them exclusively and evenly to the campaigns.
Earlier in the day, before the debate, Spicer told Breitbart News exclusively that there were 1,600 seats in the audience and only 600 tickets were divided among the campaigns. State party and local officials got 550 tickets, while the RNC got 367 tickets. Another hundred tickets were given to the debate partners, CBS News, the Peace Center, and Google.