The procedure in a “spin room” – that’s what the organizers called the place, with capital letters – is reasonably efficient, considering the purposes of the participants. The candidates want the journalists to write or broadcast that they won, or at least distinguished themselves – or, to get to the minimum of the positive, that they didn’t commit a major gaffe or do anything to embarrass themselves. So they meet and mingle, one side prepared with canned questions and the other side with canned answers.
Along the outside walls of the Spin Room at the Reagan Library Thursday – from which I watched the event (one is reluctant to call it a debate) on television, since I had made arrangements to come at the last minute and the journalistic pool in the main hall was filled already – are makeshift TV set-ups in cubicle-like areas separated by temporary walls, with some kind of poster as background for the camera. In the middle of the room, once the main event is over, the spinners stand with signs held over their heads, identifying the candidate and the spinner, as in “Giuliani – Susan Molinari.”
The hacks descend on them, with microphone, recorder or notebook, sometimes a camera, and ask how their guy did. The spinners dutifully declare that their guy clearly won this thing, that the American people simply can’t get enough of his mug on the TV explaining important issues, and yearn to have him in their living rooms (at least during news shows and national crises) for the four significant years beginning in 2009.
Here’s what various spinners told me:
Missouri Sen. Jim Talent and former Minnesota Rep. Vin Weber said their man Romney clearly carried the day by looking presidential, sounding informed and assured about the key issues, including Iraq, and showing the occasional sign of having a sense of humor. As the least-known of the “top three” he had to make a good showing, and he did.
On behalf of Giuliani, one Mike Du Hain (sp?) said the American people saw somebody who was ready now to be president, having reminded people that he had handled problems he encountered on becoming mayor (cut crime, blah blah) and performed superbly in crises.
Steve Schmidt, a McCain spinner, said his guy had showed passion, talked directly about the challenges facing America (Islamic Fascism) and showed he was the guy to handle them, the most prepared. He had the most credible record on spending and answered questions in a straightforward way. (He also said Giuliani had confused him on abortion, seeming to hold two positions at once – similar to the comments Vin Weber on behalf of Romney had made.
Former GOP Calif. Gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, on behalf of Giuliani, said his position on abortion wasn’t confused at all, simply well-thought-out and nuanced; unfortunately the format didn’t allow for full exploration of complex issues.
Bob Wickes, on behalf of Huckabee, talked about how well they were organized in early primary states like Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. The more the American people saw of Huckabee, he averred, and the more they learned about his record as governor of Arkansas, the better they liked him.
Jim Gilmore’s guy, one Ed Jost, said the former Virginia governor had made it clear that he was a consistent conservative who kept his campaign promises . He said some of the top guys had changed their positions in ways that made people wonder, and when things shook out among them, his guy would start rising.
I report, you decide. Which reminds me. Several Democratic candidates have refused to participate in debates co-sponsored by Fox, but here were the Republicans showing up for an MSNBC-sponsored event, moderated by Chris Matthews (former Carter speechwriter, former Tip O’Neill aide) and previewed and reviewed by Keith Olberman, who has made a career of bashing Bush. Does that make the Democrats look more than a bit petty?