February 24th, 2013
11:28 AM ET
1 year ago

Top Romney strategist saw danger 140 characters at a time

(CNN) - Many see tweeting as the future of communication - even the future of reporting – where stories are told one line at a time and spread through social channels faster than any newscast or newspaper.

But Mitt Romney's former top campaign strategist sees political pitfalls.

"The thing about Twitter … is both it's [a] great thing and it's [a] very dangerous thing," Stuart Stevens said in an interview Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources."

Now, nearly four months out from the November presidential election, Stevens looked back on how his candidate fared in the media – social and otherwise – during his second bid for the White House.

There were stumbles and strategy, gaffes and what he called the "green room culture."

It's backstage in the green room – where guests wait for TV appearances and actors prepare for performances – where conversations are struck up and relationships are built that allow reporters to better understand the multiple facets of their candidates.

"He didn't have a lot [of] relationships," Stevens said. "He hadn't spent a lot of time getting to know these reporters and how it affected them. And I think that there is a desire for a certain vetting process to happen in the green room, that Governor Romney hadn't really submitted himself to. He submitted himself to voters."

Stevens claimed reporters have a "disposition" toward Democratic views and against his candidate and Republican views. He did not cite specific examples.

The news cycle "creates, I think, an environment that is very conductive to the creation of news, the invention of news," he said.

Outlets find themselves in a news situation where "there is none, so therefore, we will invent it."

"There was a time when they wanted a new story every day," Stevens said of reporters. "Now they need a new story every two hours. And that's a great pressure on these reporters, who I'm very sympathetic to."

The campaign moved at a brisk pace especially driven by social media. Stevens said he has a Twitter account but does not create his own posts and instead uses the site as a lens on the public conversation, especially during debates when "that's all I would look at" as the candidates hashed out their differences onstage.

"I think we used it to our advantage in a lot of cases," he said, citing one example where a Democratic strategist charged that Romney's wife – a mother of five and active in charitable endeavors – had "never worked a day in her life."

But the campaign had less successful days in social media, too, as Romney found himself in the spotlight for remarks such as that "47%" of Americans were dependent on government and that he used "binders full of women" to find suitable female hires.

Those and other story lines took on lives of their own online.

In today's environment, Stevens said, "news is whatever people decide news is."

"I don't think that there is a legitimacy litmus test that you can put on it," he said. "The question that news organizations have to ask themselves and do ask themselves every day is what kind of news do we want to validate?"

The GOP now is looking ahead to gubernatorial elections in 2013, midterm elections in 2014 and the next race for the White House in 2016. Some Republicans see the need to rebrand or rethink strategy.

Stevens said that for the Romney campaign's shortcomings, "I take full responsibility."

"Let's don't have a period where we go back and we try to say, 'well, let's blame this person,'" he said. Instead, he said the party should reassess, "go on and win races and learn from what we did."

Expanding the diversity of the GOP base is widely seen as an opportunity for the party after exit polling data showed a wide majority of minority voters favored President Barack Obama over Romney.

Stevens cautioned Republicans against thinking that one policy or recruitment effort alone would be the key to repairing the party image.

"Immigration isn't a quick fix. Having Hispanic candidates isn't a quick fix," he said in the CNN interview. "It has to be a series of steps to rebuild the bond of trust with Hispanic voters. The primary, I don't think, was positive for that. But there's no data to indicate that the primary was particularly toxic for it."


Filed under: Mitt Romney
soundoff (185 Responses)
  1. Biff Omney

    The GOP base made it impossible for Romney to run on his record.

    February 24, 2013 09:35 pm at 9:35 pm |
  2. DENNA

    Where does one begin to list how the GOP screwed up? They tried to play the voters as fools. They didn't learn their lesson from losing the last election to Barack Obama. The GOP is slow to grasp that America is changing. They are slow to understand the value of the internet and Twitter in campaigns. They are, simply, too stupid. They can't even decide who their "rising star" of the day should be. I could go on and on, but you get the point. Oh, Rubio, I loved your attempt at giving the GOP response to the SOTU address. Hillarious.

    February 24, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  3. Yeah that's it

    We all remember so well how Mitt made himself available to questions from the press and from voters. If they agreed to his rules and only published what he approved he was happy to talk to FOX about it. Any voter who paid a couple thousand dollars and asked the correct question also had access to him. LOL this campaign adviser still misses the point... Mitt doesn't talk or answer to those who are below him.

    February 24, 2013 09:36 pm at 9:36 pm |
  4. chalie16

    Romney lost because he didn't believe in what his own party tried to get him to sell. He didn't commit to an agenda because he didn't have one, he was doing what he was being told to do and it showed throughout his entire campaign.

    February 24, 2013 09:43 pm at 9:43 pm |
  5. notogop

    Amazing, these GOP people didn't listen to what they were saying or what the American public said to them at the polls. It's just the same old thing, let's find someone other than ourselves to blame. My god, they have Fox News(?) 24/7 to amplify their few strengths and modify their faux pas, and even they didn't like Romney. Why would anyone else like his message? Appears to me that Stevens may be trying to salvage a failing career.

    February 24, 2013 09:49 pm at 9:49 pm |
  6. cja

    What hppened to Romney was just the demographics. Not enough uneducated white southern makes to place him over the top. Serioulsy. He only did as well as he did because of a HUGE number of racists who HATE the idea of a black president. Next time in 2016 the Republicans will not have the advantage of running against a black guy and also there base continues to shrink. They need to learn "it was not the messenger, it was the massage" that killed them. They will either move to the center, like Eisenhower or even Nixon or die.

    February 24, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  7. koosemek

    romney lost get over it! pansies put some big boy pants on and take it like a man.

    February 24, 2013 10:05 pm at 10:05 pm |
  8. Dave

    Excuses excuses it is Romney's own mouth and mind that screwed him up.

    February 24, 2013 10:06 pm at 10:06 pm |
  9. Royal Flush

    Romney's overarching problem is Romney.

    February 24, 2013 10:12 pm at 10:12 pm |
  10. Trent Petersen

    The fact that Willard Lost the Election has nothing to do with his Advisors I think it had to do with the fact that Willard was the weaker of the two Candidates and also that America is tired of War and has seen through the Smokescreen of False Flag Operations. Americans chose Honesty & Integrity over cronyism and feeding of the Military-Industrial Complex that all these Presidents have warned us about.

    February 24, 2013 10:15 pm at 10:15 pm |
  11. Amy

    You know that Willard had the brain capacity of a gnat, don't you?

    February 24, 2013 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  12. frank thomas

    I really do believe,right wing extremists who have hi jacked th egop will continue to destroy the R party, It almost seems llike they want it that way, everiything they do is so phony so as to invite continured criticism from moderates and th eleft, RIP gop.

    February 24, 2013 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  13. Glenn Rice

    Who's to blame for Romney's failure? The fault lies with the republican party. Romney is the ideal republican candidate and his lose demonstrates that Americans reject his message and the things he represents.

    February 24, 2013 10:31 pm at 10:31 pm |
  14. Dave A.

    What could the Romneys possible say now.. ..Waste of time unless you like listening to loosers

    February 24, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  15. Crocker

    There were two problems with Romney. His religion – which many compare to a cult, and more importantly his political stance. He said, “I will put Americans back to work.” Fifty one percent of the losers out there said the HECK WITH THAT and voted for Obama.... The rest will be history.

    February 24, 2013 10:32 pm at 10:32 pm |
  16. David Anderson

    The election is not won or lost by parties or personalities. It is won or lost by ideas. Romney appeared to have none that were not Republican boiler plate, so the people in the center who actually make the difference went with the devil they knew rather than the one they did not know.

    February 24, 2013 11:06 pm at 11:06 pm |
  17. ForgiveAndForget

    I'm so amazed that people are still so so mad with Romney and the Republican Party. Pls lets forget and forgive them but
    I am afraid with the way they are going, they are the greatest enemy of themselves.

    February 24, 2013 11:34 pm at 11:34 pm |
  18. Larry L

    Those of you who are disappointed and that's understandable. But can you stop and try to visualize one thing his platform recommended that was solid and not some fluffy, yet-to-be-described concept? He ran on a platform of negative ads and a complete lack of specifics. He couldn't bridge the enormous gap between his life as a fabulously rich corporate executive and the working class Americans.

    February 24, 2013 11:45 pm at 11:45 pm |
  19. John

    Funny, but most every negative comment made here about Romney applies to Obama as well, a dirty rotten two faced lying politician, with Napoleonic ambitions who looks down on the common people. But CNN, MSNBC ... all love him, so who cares.

    February 24, 2013 11:56 pm at 11:56 pm |
  20. donna rochester

    Romney lost because the voters saw through the facade and there was no there, there. He was an empty, shallow, rich man with no ability to connect with or understand the majority of voters. We aren't nearly as dumb as he thought we were.

    February 25, 2013 12:33 am at 12:33 am |
  21. tlsstudent4

    Citizens disagreed with republican policies nor message delivery strategies or mechanisms. Give the citizens of the republic more credit.

    February 25, 2013 12:55 am at 12:55 am |
  22. Brando_IA

    That's the long-winded way to say that Mitt has no personality. I'm sure he's a great family man and if I owned a company, he's probably a good choice to run it. Not sure he really understood the little guy.

    February 25, 2013 01:16 am at 1:16 am |
  23. Getoverit

    @the serpent

    Boo-Hoo!!! The mean old media is to blame!!!!
    ---------–
    Yep. And if you can't see that, then you're another brainwashed Obamabot.

    February 25, 2013 02:31 am at 2:31 am |
  24. MrBretz

    You are all forgetting that Romney was by far the best GOP candidate. How do you think Santorum would have done? Or Rick Perry? They were all such losers and Romney never got that. He was the candidate that asked what do you want me to say so you will vote for me. To me the clincher was when he brought up the Republican talking point about our navy having few ships than 1913 and Obama nailed him. And Romney just looked confused like he had Alzheimers.

    February 25, 2013 03:01 am at 3:01 am |
  25. christieb

    As I get older, I become more conservative. I haven't been a liberal since college in the 80's. While the Right should have won me over by now they, unfortunately, continued moving further to the right at an accelerated pace. Mitt lost because his ideas are archaic and uninformed. He was the wrong guy and nothing could have saved him. However, am I alone in thinking that even the best candidate would have lost once that nutball Karl Rove took charge? What about Donald Trump? Name me one Liberal or Democrat who behaved as shamefully or outrageously? I had no choice but to vote for Barack Obama in both elections as the only stable and intelligent nominee available. Gov. Christie will have this Democrat's vote in 2016 if he tells Rover, Trump and Rev. Pat Robertson what they can do to themselves.

    February 25, 2013 03:36 am at 3:36 am |
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