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Inside The Debate Spin Room, Where Everybody Wins

Journalists, candidates and their representatives crowd the spin room after Wednesday night's debate.
Mark J. Terrill
Journalists, candidates and their representatives crowd the spin room after Wednesday night's debate.

Pundits and campaign surrogates held court with dozens of journalists after both GOP debates Wednesday night in the spin room.

A spin room is a chaotic mob scene where reporter could ask maybe seven people the same question, and get at least eight answers.

On Wednesday night, I took it upon myself to ask as many campaign surrogates in the spin room as I could the same question: Who do you think won last night's debate? Here were some of the answers I got from campaign surrogates:

"Oh, Sen. Graham won, and he won big."

"Of course, my husband, Bobby Jindal. He rocked it."

"Rick Santorum, hands down."

"I think people will conclude that Sen. Paul won."

"I think Gov. Christie."

This went on — Gov. Huckabee, Jeb Bush.

It's what spin rooms are made for. Cheerleaders chanting that their team is the best, even if the scoreboard disagrees.

A few of the candidates came to the spin room, too. But instead of being so egotistical as to tell you how they won, they took shots at their competitors.

Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, and Lindsey Graham all hit Donald Trump:

"Donald Trump is a narcissist, he's an entertainer — give him his reality TV show back, put him back on the elevator, fire him," Jindal said.

"I'm sure Donald Trump is a nice guy, and I certainly appreciate the work he's done in the private sector, but Americans don't need another apprentice in the White House," said Walker.

And from Graham: "He says he gets his foreign policy from watching TV ... I don't know what channel he's watching!"

Trump actually had few, if any, of his own surrogates in the spin room. But he did show up to defend himself. There was nearly a stampede when he walked through a side door.

And in typical Trump fashion, he got into it with a reporter over how much applause he received.

Even MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who's been a political pundit for years, couldn't defend the circus.

"It's almost, self ridiculing, the idea of a spin room. Why would you create a room and say, this is where we don't tell the truth? Why would you do that?" he said, laughing.

But people do do that.

And in this age of social media, now, people can spin anywhere.

Social media have totally upended post-debate spin, and maybe even made the spin room less important, said Brian Jones, a senior adviser with Chris Christie's campaign.

He was in the same room working for McCain in 2007, but said that now "so much of the perception of the debate is formed during the debate in real time on Twitter."

"What used to be conventional wisdom, which would have to be formed right here in these rooms — I mean everyone [now is] kind of sharing their experiences, so you get a sense of what people are collectively thinking as the debate is going on," he said.

Basically, the spin room — for better or worse — is everywhere now, in real time. The new spin is the wisdom, and the commentary, of the crowd.

So much spinning, it's enough to make you dizzy.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Sam Sanders
Sam Sanders is a correspondent and host of It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders at NPR. In the show, Sanders engages with journalists, actors, musicians, and listeners to gain the kind of understanding about news and popular culture that can only be reached through conversation. The podcast releases two episodes each week: a "deep dive" interview on Tuesdays, as well as a Friday wrap of the week's news.
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