Newt Gingrich’s lackluster performance last night undermines his specious claim to be the best debater to go up against President Obama. This morning he complained that the audience was silenced, vowing not to let that happen again. I suppose he’ll also demand John King serve up a softball debate as well.

This is one more indication that Gingrich is not a general-election candidate. In the presidential debates they don’t allow audience reaction either. At the start of the Sept. 26, 2008, debate Jim Lehrer explained: “The audience here in the hall has promised to remain silent, no cheers, no applause, no noise of any kind, except right now, as we welcome Senators Obama and McCain.”

A Mitt Romney adviser had this reaction when I asked him about audience participation: “The Commission on Presidential Debates sets the guidelines for the general election. They don’t allow audience participation. So it makes sense to select a nominee who can thrive under real-time conditions. If a candidate can’t deliver a good performance without a cheering section, it’s like picking an Olympic athlete to swim for us who is afraid of water. “

There are, of course, bigger problems with selecting Gingrich based on his debating skill. In a general election, his bread-and- butter — attacking elites and especially media elites — will be useless. Moreover, his incendiary rhetoric about liberals, judges, the president and just about everything else will be a burden and not an asset.

Beyond that, however, you have to wonder about the plea to choose a nominee based on his rhetoric. I mean, wasn’t that the faulty criterion that gave us President Obama?

More on the debate from Right Turn:

Gingrich won’t debate without his cheering section

Path to the nomination: Why Gingrich?

Florida debate: Romney of the offensive, Gingrich listless