Romney adviser opens up about Sandy, Eastwood and the '47%'
December 6th, 2012
05:13 PM ET
10 years ago

Romney adviser opens up about Sandy, Eastwood and the '47%'

(CNN) - A top adviser for Mitt Romney's failed presidential bid weighed in on some of the campaign's low moments, pointing to Clint Eastwood's unexpected monologue, the '47%' comments and Superstorm Sandy as three challenges for Romney's team in the final months of the campaign.

In an interview with PBS' Charlie Rose, Stuart Stevens said Wednesday that Eastwood's now-famous skit at the Republican National Convention was a divergence from what the actor had originally planned to say.

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"We had very specific things that he was supposed to say that he had said in front of us before," Stevens aid. "He did this improv that had never been discussed."

He later added: "To a degree it was a distraction, it was bad."

During his RNC appearance, Eastwood spoke to an empty chair as if President Barack Obama were sitting in it. His performance was described as random and out of rhythm with the convention, though it drew laughs from the roaring audience.

"What do you want me to tell Romney?" Eastwood asked the empty chair. "I can't tell him to do that to himself."

Stevens gave a different interpretation last week when he spoke during a symposium with Obama campaign officials at Harvard University's Institute of Politics. "I don't think it was a big deal," he said.

Romney strategist Russ Schriefer, who helped organize the convention, told the panel the Eastwood appearance was a "pretty good opportunity" because he was "one of the biggest iconic stars" who never had made an appearance at a political convention.

When asked if anyone read Eastwood's remarks, Schriefer said the actor was supposed to say what he previously had told two fundraiser events.

During the event, co-moderated by CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, Schriefer said he had asked Eastwood whether he was going to repeat those remarks and Eastwood responded: "yup."

"This idea came to him as he is standing there," Schriefer recounted.

The Obama officials appearing alongside at the Harvard event told the audience Eastwood's empty chair routine was a major boon for their fundraising and they saw an immediate spike in their social media activity.

The actor later admitted he didn't come up with the idea until he saw the chair shortly before walking on stage. "I didn't make up my mind exactly what I was going to say until I said it," he told a California newspaper.

Less than a month later, Romney's campaign would be dealing with another dust-up, this one more serious. On September 17, secretly-recorded video emerged showing Romney at a Florida fundraiser in May, where he told donors that nearly half of Americans were "dependent" on government and considered themselves victims. Those voters, he said, would automatically choose President Barack Obama.

The video soon sparked an outcry from Democrats and some Republicans, most notably some GOP Senate candidates in tough races attempting to distance themselves from their party's nominee.

Asked how badly the whole episode hurt the campaign, Stevens said: "It was bad, it was bad."

However, he said he understood "completely what (Romney) was trying to say" and pointed to the "interesting" timing of the video's release, saying it came out just as Obama was starting to lose his post-convention bounce.

He further commended the campaign for a "fantastic" comeback job.

"Those are moments when campaigns can either fall apart and start blaming each other and start yelling in a huddle–or just hang together and put your head down," he said.

During the Harvard event Romney officials said they did not know about the existence of the video until it became public.

A final hurdle came, he said, when Superstorm Sandy slammed into the Northeast, about a week before the election.

"After the storm, I never had a good feeling," Stevens said, regarding Romney's chances of victory. "Not that the storm impacted things so much, per se, but these races - a race like this is a lot like an NBA game. It's all about ball control at the end."

Both Romney and Obama suspended campaign activity shortly before and after the storm. The GOP nominee held some storm-relief events to collect donations for victims, while the president monitored the weather from Washington and later traveled to damaged areas in New Jersey to survey the aftermath.

But both candidates nixed events in key battleground states with only days to go until the election.

"We went from having these big rallies around the country to literally sitting in hotel rooms, and there was just nothing we could do about it," Stevens said.

Both Stevens and Obama Campaign Senior Adviser David Axelrod said the storm froze the campaign.

"We lost the ability to control the race," Stevens said. "The ball went out of our hands."

"There is no doubt the storm froze the race," Axelrod said adding it didn't result in a big change in approval numbers for the president. Instead of election stories the news was dominated by storm developments. "It froze the race in an advantageous way…and we had banked a lot of votes."

Filed under: 2012 • Mitt Romney
soundoff (36 Responses)
  1. Randy, San Francisco

    The responsiblity for losing the election falls on Romney's campaign staff. They mismanaged the candidate, campaign message, and the Convention. Like Fox News, they committed the ultimate mistake in believing in their own hype, propoganda, and flawed polling.

    December 6, 2012 07:14 pm at 7:14 pm |
  2. Pander Bear

    'However, he said he understood "completely what (Romney) was trying to say"'

    Yeah, so did we which is why he got his behind kicked.

    December 6, 2012 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  3. The Unsub

    Romney lost because he got less votes that Obama! Period!

    December 6, 2012 07:53 pm at 7:53 pm |
  4. wwf

    I voted for Obama and I have not received one dam thing from him, nor have I asked for anything and I sure as hell was not manipulated. I am a 61 year old white male who never asked the government for one dime. You just keep looking for the silver lining from fox. It must be there someplace. I thought Eastwood was funny as well and made my day just like you have.

    December 6, 2012 08:08 pm at 8:08 pm |
  5. Dvet

    An act of God explains it all. Romney and the repubics party would have destroyed this country.

    December 6, 2012 08:11 pm at 8:11 pm |
  6. anonoymous

    The Obama team's ground game will make history. Not real sure how dicussing how or why romney lost is healthy. Obama received more votes in all but one battleground states. His advisors used real information to connect with real people. Romney lost because his campaign was a joke. Lost all but one battleground state. Relied on only positive made up polls. The people who supported romney on this blog must have been the only ones he gave details to because the rest of us heard rhetoric and no specfics.

    December 6, 2012 08:16 pm at 8:16 pm |
  7. jkane sfl gop mascots the blubbering slobs allen west rover nitwitquest rick scott ,carl rove and donald dump ??????

    What's this four time loser for public office still doing around ???? Just like norquest ,unelected goofballs saying they speak for us , get lost !!!!

    December 6, 2012 08:25 pm at 8:25 pm |
  8. LastGirl

    Because of the 47% remark, a Republican strategist voted for one of the independent candidates instead of Romney. There is no telling how many others, who were going to vote for him, decided not to after that statement.

    If the Romney campaign had not ignored the real polls, maybe they would have a different stategy. Dick Morris admitted post election that his prediction was for sensationalism and not based on facts. So many of the other polls/predictions were based on gut feelings, enthusiasm for Romney, less enthusiasm this time for Obama, the number of people who turned out at rallies and plain ol' biases and probably the amount of money they raised had something to do with their thinking Romney would win. Three hundred million dollars does not equal 300 million votes (the US population is just over 300 million).

    Romney has always been his worst enemy and that is why he lost.

    December 6, 2012 08:56 pm at 8:56 pm |
  9. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    The race was never Romney's. He kept screwing up more than Obama. There was too much haughtness that Romney showed.

    December 6, 2012 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
  10. Ancient Texan

    RS- And you think the current president does?(Work for vast majority of Americans) Obama has split this nation straight down the middle with his class warfare and declared war on everyone who doesn't buy into his ideolology.

    December 6, 2012 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  11. DENNA

    Blame the storm, Clint Eastwood, the 47% remark debacle – blame whatever you want. Your mean-spirited and badly organized campaign is the reason you lost. You overestimated the power of the white male and badly underestimated the intellegence of women and minorities. The worst part is that you seriously underestimated President Obama and his appeal. Maybe if the GOP had not spent 4 years doing nothing but trying to make President Obama look bad, you might have had a chance. LOL Who am I kidding? Mittens and that liar Paul Ryan were just bad, bad candidates. Better luck next time. 🙂

    December 6, 2012 09:22 pm at 9:22 pm |
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