TAMPA, Fla. -- Did Erika Fry break the universe? After the last debate in South Carolina, she wrote a story on the absurdity of the process that ended with a depressed look at "spin room" culture. Hacks wait a few days, and here we go: A debate with a fatal lack of interesting moments, unless you count an out-of-nowhere question about Terri Schiavo. We'd all made the trek to USF, and the spin room beckoned, and the best and brightest of the dying news industry did their best to find drama to report. It was a heavy lift.
"The first thirty minutes were boring," said former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, an MSNBC contributor, hanging out in the room. (Disclosure: I am also an MSNBC contributor, albeit one with slightly fewer Republican enemies.) "How many times can you litigate Bain and Freddie Mac?"
Just a few more times. Romney's adviser Eric Fehrnstrom rattled off a list of other things that The People need to see from Gingrich. Invoices! Descriptions of what was provided every month! (This was required in the contract.) Gingrich's spokesman R.C. Hammond, a man who doubts the very concept of spin room recaps, offered a deafening sigh to anyone who asked about this.
"We're not going to get into a tit-for-tat with a candidate who paid for computers in order to delete the hard drives," he said, "so that no one would find out the details of health care negotiations when he was governor." Yes, right: Saying this was a tat, or a tit. But it was a rant about something that the campaign wouldn't actually demand. Hammond had a stronger (tongue, cheek, etc) opinion about the network's ban on applause. "I think it's un-American!"
"I think it was more presidential," said Romney adviser Stu Stevens. "We're not choosing a talk show host."
Again: More proof that Erika Fry was right. This cliche was old enough to drink. The only agreed-upon fact was that the shushed audience denied Newt some energy.
"It had an effect on his overall ability to kind of drive the conversation," suggested Steele. "The thing about these debates is that they're partnerships between the audiences and the candidates. I get to see my guy, I respond to it. I see the guy I don't like, I respond." And the fights between candidates and moderators, these weren't distractions? "They're distractions for the moderator, maybe, but they haven't been distractions for the base."