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RNC Under Fire Over Debate Audience Stacking–Local GOP Chairman Confirms Party Donors Get Debate Tickets


GREENVILLE, South Carolina — The chairman of the local Republican Party here confirmed to local television that 2016 frontrunner billionaire Donald Trump’s concerns—and those of his closest competitor Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)—with the Republican National Committee (RNC) allocation of debate audience tickets are well-placed.

Chad Groover, the chairman of the Greenville County Republican Party here, told WYFF—the local NBC News station—that party donors get tickets to the debate.


“You’ll have a good mix of people who are donors, people who are donors and workers, and people who are just workers,” Groover said, noting that he got “a couple of dozen” of tickets to hand out to the party’s faithful donors.

“I didn’t have hundreds of tickets. I had a couple of dozen tickets,” Groover said.

That means a significant proportion of his stack of approximately 24 tickets went to monied interests backing the GOP—not to actual voters in the upcoming election.

Sources close to the process who work for the RNC, but are not authorized to speak on the record, confirmed to Breitbart News throughout the evening on Saturday that that is standard operating procedure for the RNC and the party as a whole for all debates: Donors get tickets while voters have to watch on TV at home.

As such, the same appears to have been true party-wide. One well-placed source who works for one of the GOP presidential campaigns and was in attendance at the debate on Saturday evening here—but was not authorized to speak on record about the matter—told Breitbart News that Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley were personally given scores of tickets to distribute. Both despise Trump and have said so publicly–Haley even using the platform of the official GOP response to the State of the Union to do so–and it would be no surprise if they did aim to stack the audience with anti-Trump sentiment.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said another source in the audience, someone who has attended several of the GOP debates. That source said the anti-Trump and anti-Cruz audience members—who were thoroughly cheering for Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and his mentor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush when they made passionate cases for amnesty for illegal aliens, something entirely non-representative of South Carolina’s electorate—were behaving unlike any audience he’d ever seen in his lifetime of attending GOP presidential debates.

The Republican National Committee’s Sean Spicer confirmed to Breitbart News pre-debate that the RNC proper distributed 367 tickets while the state party and locally elected officials received 550 tickets. Meanwhile the debate partners—CBS News, the Peace Center, and Google—received another 100 tickets. That means more than 1000 tickets—1,017 by Spicer’s admission—went not to voters in the upcoming election and not to campaigns for equal distribution to their supporters but to special interest distribution of those connected to the party, mostly high dollar donors. Only 600 tickets were distributed equally among the six remaining GOP campaigns, which to be fair to the RNC is the highest number of tickets distributed as such so far this election cycle.

But Trump’s campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, is calling for the RNC to drop all donor tickets and stop handing them out to special and monied interests entirely. Lewandowski says at all the rest of the debates from here on out, Spicer and the RNC must equally allocate all tickets among the various campaigns so they can distribute them equally and fairly to their supporters—and cut out all the donors and special interests who get tickets.

“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,” Lewandowski said in the spin room. “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.”

Spicer has refused repeatedly over the course of several emails on Saturday and Sunday morning to answer whether the RNC will comply with Lewandowski’s request to drop all RNC and state and local party ticket allocation and just allow the campaigns to equally distribute all debate tickets fairly to their supporters in the future.

Trump’s and Cruz’s concerns are even being confirmed by many across the political spectrum. In fact, even the left-of-center Huffington Post confirms that the RNC’s ticket allocation system seems to have been “behind” the excessive and unwarranted booing of Trump and Cruz—and cheering of the donor class supported Rubio and Bush.

“The audience at Saturday’s CBS News Republican presidential debate was more boisterous than unusual — booing, clapping and generally making its feelings known during several exchanges between candidates on stage in Greenville, South Carolina,” the Huffington Post’s Igor Bobic wrote. “At various points, attendees seemed to favor former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and to be very much against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and real estate mogul Donald Trump — the two candidates currently leading the race. The way the Republican National Committee distributed the tickets may have been behind the heightened reactions.”

Vox, another left-of-center outlet, ran a headline that made it even clearer: “The Republican establishment packed the debate audience with Donald Trump haters.” In the piece, author German Lopez noted that the audience’s pro-Rubio and pro-Bush cheering was “very peculiar” as was the booing of Trump and Cruz.

“Something very peculiar happened at the Republican debate on Saturday night: When Donald Trump talked, the audience booed. Yet when Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and even John Kasich talked, they got loud cheers and applause,” Lopez wrote. “This happened again and again. It even led a spike in Google searches for ‘Why are people booing?’”

Vox even admits that Trump’s claim on stage that the odd—and unrepresentative of the party’s voting base—audience was made up of “Jeb’s special interests and lobbyists” was really not “that far-fetched.”

“Prior to the debate, the Republican Party decided not to use a lottery system to decide who should be in the audience,” Lopez wrote. “Instead, most tickets went to elected Republican officials, donors, and other workers for the party picked by local, state, and national party officials. The result, it seems, is the room was packed with Republican voters who overwhelmingly dislike Trump.”

That seems to be why Lewandowski is calling for a new system for fairness, one that cuts the RNC completely out of the process. It remains to be seen if other campaigns will get on board with this, but earlier in the cycle–due to the RNC’s ineffectiveness in dealing with biased moderators–the entire field of campaign managers met privately to cut the RNC out of the process of negotiating with the networks. It is only logical that the next step is that the campaigns work to ensure fairness in debate audience selection, something the RNC clearly failed at providing.

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