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.
This happened again and again. It even led a spike in Google searches for "Why are people booing?"
Trump, at one point, scoffed that the audience was made up of "Jeb [Bush]'s special interests and lobbyists."
It turns out this may not be 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. 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.
Corey Davis reported for local news station WYFF 4:
[Greenville County Republican Party Chair Chad] Groover said supporters who work hard for the party will be rewarded tickets.
People selected will fill the 1,900 seats that have been made available for the event, according to Groover.
Groover said the Republican National Committee gives a lot of tickets to supporters. He said more are then allocated for the state party to distribute among the county chairs.
"I didn't have hundreds of tickets. I had a couple of dozen tickets," said Groover.
Groover said he gave tickets to supporters, including elected officials, who work hard for the party.
"You'll have a good mix of people who are donors, people who are donors and workers, and people who are just workers," said Groover.
Alex Swoyer reported the ticket breakdown for Breitbart News, noting that most of the audience was picked by local, state, and national party officials:
Breitbart News learned from RNC’s Chief Strategist and Communications Director, Sean Spicer, that the Peace Center in Greenville holds roughly 1600 seats. Out of those 1600 seats, candidates received 600 tickets to invite their guests.
The state party and locally elected officials received 550, while the RNC, including nationally elected officials, received 367 tickets.
The debate partners, CBS News, the Peace Center, and Google received 100 tickets.
The Republican establishment opposes Trump, and it clearly prefers Bush and Rubio to Trump. And the establishment, along with anti-Trump candidates, got to choose most of the audience on Saturday night. So Trump got booed, again and again, while everyone else got cheers.
Update: Added the detailed ticket breakdown from Breitbart News.