MANCHESTER, New Hampshire -- On stage, frontrunner Mitt Romney spent much of Saturday night's debate smiling as his opponents battled each other for second-place status.
But in the spin room at St. Anselm College after the action, Romney's staff and surrogates were telling a different story--one of blistering criticism, hard-fought victory, and a fight that proved their candidate was ready for the Oval Office.
"Governor Romney got attacked by everyone on the stage," said Lanhee Chen, the campaign's policy director. "He got attacked by Huntsman in Chinese!"
"He was attacked a lot!" said media consultant Stuart Stevens. "He deals with it well."
Said advisor Eric Fehrnstrom: "He was attacked, but he handled those attacks very deftly. He was attacked for his tax program. He was attacked for his business record at Bain."
Then Fehrnstrom arrived at the takeaway, which was repeated by every Romney supporter BuzzFeed spoke to: "What we saw in Mitt Romney tonight was a person who rises above the attacks and comes across as the most presidential person on stage."
"This is our 14th debate," he added, "And I think it was Mitt Romney's best by far."
McKay Coppins is a senior writer for the BuzzFeed News politics team, and the author of The Wilderness, about the battle over the future of the Republican Party.
Contact McKay Coppins at email@example.com.
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