TUSCALOOSA, Ala.—Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis absolutely crushed it. Vivek Ramaswamy mopped the floor with the other candidates. Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s closing statement was the highlight of the event. Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the only seasoned executive in the race.
These were among the messages coming from the spin room following the fourth Republican presidential debate on Dec. 6.
The spin room, a 40-year-old fixture in presidential debates, is the place where campaign staffers and high-profile supporters speak to reporters in an attempt to influence public opinion about the results of the debate.
Although much of the rhetoric is scripted, the spin can give valuable clues about what concerns the candidates and how they think they’re doing.
DeSantis the LeaderSupporters of Mr. DeSantis were eager to portray their candidate as a strong leader who’s the only viable alternative to former President Donald Trump. The governor’s surrogates mostly tried to show why he’s a preferable choice to former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
“The best line of the night was ‘You killed it, I signed it,'” Ken Cuccinelli said.
Mr. Cuccinelli, founder of the Never Back Down political action committee, which is backing Mr. DeSantis, was referring to a bill in South Carolina that Ms. Haley didn’t support and one in Florida that Mr. DeSantis did.
“So we'll keep making those comparisons, whether it’s via ads or whether it’s on the debate stage by the governor,” he said, noting that the DeSantis campaign will continue to speak about President Trump’s increasing the national debt.
“I fully expect that we’re going to continue to expand our efforts to educate voters on the failings that Donald Trump had.”
Mr. DeSantis was “the only conservative on that stage,” according to Andrew Romeo, communications director for the DeSantis campaign. Mr. Romeo highlighted the differences between his candidate and Ms. Haley.
“I think there was a clear contrast that he put on the stage tonight. She was sending love letters to China. Ron DeSantis banned China from doing business in Florida,” Mr. Romeo said, noting that Ms. Haley’s performance showed her ineffectiveness.
“This is the first time that she was really in the spotlight, and she couldn’t handle it. She faded into the background and didn’t answer any questions. And then when she did have to get forced to answer questions, she didn’t have any answers for the hits against her.”
Haley With MomentumSupporters for Ms. Haley tried to position her as the candidate with momentum who’s likely to gain strength through the upcoming presidential primaries, likely eclipsing Mr. DeSantis.
“I think Nikki won,” Mark Harris of the SFA political action committee told The Epoch Times. “The fact that DeSantis had to desperately come after her on his opening statement tells you everything you need to know about where this race is at.”
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) told reporters, “She’s either tied or ahead right now.”
Mr. Norman leaned on the fact that Mr. DeSantis wasn’t gaining in popularity despite massive campaign expenditures.
“Ron DeSantis burned through $100 million. Ron DeSantis has not seen a return on his investment,” Mr. Norman said, noting that the governor’s attacks on Ms. Haley were motivated by his recognition of her surging popularity.
“That’s the reason he was aggressive tonight. What else is he going to do? The other things haven’t worked,” he said.
Ms. Haley handled herself admirably under attack and showcased her policy positions to great advantage, according to Mr. Norman.
“All of it was good,” Mr. Norman said, noting that Ms. Haley kept her composure when criticized and refused to respond to one attack by Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy.
“But [the highlight] was when she went into what she was doing with the colleges, what she would do with the border, what she would do with Taiwan, all the issues.”
Ms. Haley said she would threaten to withhold federal funding from U.S. universities that don’t stop accepting donations from foreign entities, and she made strong statements on securing the southern border and preventing the takeover of Taiwan by the Chinese Communist Party.
“She is a cross between Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher,” Mr. Norman said, attempting to portray his candidate as a capable and tough but likable leader. “She has a fist in a velvet glove. She’s tough. She will make a difference in this country. She has the likeability of a Ronald Reagan. She got to the toughness of a Margaret Thatcher.
“When DeSantis gets out, if he does, I think Nikki stands a good chance to attract a lot of his supporters.”
Christie the Voice of ExperienceMr. Christie spoke for himself in the spin room, positioning himself as the only seasoned executive in the race.
“Nobody ever trained me for Hurricane Sandy,” he said of his time as New Jersey’s governor. “When that kind of crisis happens, or what’s happening in Ukraine comes, short pithy answers that are memorized and prepared for you by your staff doesn’t solve the problem.
“What I showed people on that stage is that there was only one person up there who has the experience and the willingness to take the heat of the presidency.”
Mr. Christie also continued to hammer his point that the primary race is really about defeating former President Donald Trump, which the other candidates don’t seem willing to acknowledge.
“Can we stop pretending that the four of us are the only people in this race? I mean, at least the moderators asked Trump questions, unlike what’s happened in some of the earlier debates,” Mr. Christie said.
Ramaswamy the Truth SpeakerStaffers for Ohio entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy and the candidate himself used the spin room to tout his strong performance in the debate, which included strong attacks on other candidates, notably Ms. Haley.
“He mopped the floor. He crushed it. He led with substance,” said Tricia McLaughlin, communications director for the Ramaswamy campaign.
“Whether it be about fentanyl, Taiwan, health care in this country—which I don’t think we’ve talked enough about—Vivek has real, firsthand experience not only from leading in the biopharmaceutical field but also from his wife.”
Apoorva Ramaswamy, Mr. Ramaswamy’s wife, is a physician.
“He was pulling no punches. He’s ready to take on anyone and just speak the truth,” Ms. McLaughlin said.
During the debate, Mr. Ramaswamy accused Ms. Haley of corruption for her involvement with defense contractors, a charge both he and Ms. McLaughlin defended in the spin room.
“I think it’s completely worth asking, ‘Who are the clients of Allied Defense?’ If you are pushing for war in Ukraine or in the Middle East and you are a military contractor, are you going to profit off of those wars? That is a legitimate question to be asking somebody who’s putting themselves up to be the next commander-in-chief,” Ms. McLaughlin said.
Mr. Ramaswamy bristled at the notion that he has a “woman problem” because of his attacks on Ms. Haley.
“I think that that’s another example of rank hypocrisy in the Republican Party. We’re not the party of identity politics. Having two X chromosomes does not immunize you from criticism. And I think the mainstream media has treated Nikki Haley with kid gloves for exactly the reason that she plays that card,” Mr. Ramaswamy said. “But I don’t think that we should have anybody who’s immune from scrutiny.”
The next major milestone in the 2024 primary season is the Iowa Republican caucuses, which are slated for Jan. 15.
“I think we’re on track to deliver a major surprise on Jan. 15,“ Mr. Ramaswamy said. ”We’re sitting exactly where we want to be heading into that day.”