February 24th, 2013
11:28 AM ET
9 years 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. Orwell seen it before

    Blame the republican party, then each member, part and parcel. Special callout to Jacko Welch and Donald Duck, big kisses to Todd Akin, Dr Broun MD, and cast of a million nutjobs infecting the country with ill reason and foolishness.

    Although it might be considered more of a blessing that the American electorate were able to see through their religious insanity and economic snake oil. That is, why blame someone or group who are irrelevant, and deserve no credit for this good fortune?

    Let's see who the wingnuts will trot out next time.
    Got to be somebody that looks all-American mainstream smooth, but loony enough to suck up to their flip-flop ignore-reality base. Somebody with veins of hypocrisy, Jim Jones charisma, and their sieg-heil-passion for victory-at-all-cost (God willing & Insha'Allah).

    Republistan, go find your homeland boys & girls; it is not in the US, try the middle of the ocean.

    February 25, 2013 04:13 am at 4:13 am |
  2. Andrew

    Romney lost for so many reasons.
    1. He made several moronic statements such as the 47 percent remark, or the "binders full of women" remark, or the $10,000 bet he made with Rick Perry.
    2. He was deliberately vague in his "ambitious" plans, and dodged debate questions so blatantly (even by body language) that even a deaf person like my mother could tell he was dodging questions.
    3. His choice of candidate. Romney chose Ryan because he wanted to appease right wing conservatives when he really should have aimed for the middle and try to steal Obama's votes.
    4. His shady tax returns.
    5. His constant flip-flopping
    6. His constant disregard of facts, even when facts are staring him straight in the face.
    7. The biggest reason of all, Romney himself. Romney is a politician who has a remarkable lack of conviction, of character, and of desire to lead the country as opposed to the desire to be in the history books. He wasn't good enough in 2008, so why would he be good enough in 2012?

    February 25, 2013 04:23 am at 4:23 am |
  3. Orwell seen it before

    Stuart Stevens does deserve the Republican Martyr Award (Jesus level 2).

    So don't by shy about begging for a high level appointment with Rick Perry, carry on that struggle in the Republic of Texas Bunker (a/k/a Rush Limbaugh Command Center, across the street from Glen Beck Fascist University).

    February 25, 2013 04:27 am at 4:27 am |
  4. Lokka

    Dude, its not you. It was him. he wasn't authentic.

    February 25, 2013 04:37 am at 4:37 am |
  5. Jason

    Why are we still talking about Romney? Why is he being allowed to run with the meme that reporters are against Republicans?

    February 25, 2013 06:06 am at 6:06 am |
  6. Justin H

    In my opinion, Romney had one major handicap that had very little to do with himself – the Republican party. Their talk being fiscally conservative comes across as hypocrisy given a complete lack of action – especially when low taxes is more important than balanced budgets. And their focus on socially conservative issues is out of touch with the average Americans who would prefer the government to stay out of their lives.

    Even if I didn't have issues with Romney as a candidate, I would not have voted for him given the current makeup of Congress. A Republican president with a Republican House and basically even Senate would have been a boon for the rich and trouble for the middle class.

    February 25, 2013 06:12 am at 6:12 am |
  7. bill Fitzgerald

    Why are there no comments here stating anything good about your hero obama. Lets list all of the wonderful fantastic leadership speeches and strategic moves made by our fearless leader. Not much to say there huh? How is this hero of yours workin out for ya? Hahaha the big joke who will easily go down as the do nothing know nothing president of all time. You'll see if you have not already. Amazing that this is still an issue. Move on and tell us all about the great obama since you all clearly elected him. Nothing to say huh? Nice. You cant move on because there is nothing to move on to.

    February 25, 2013 07:28 am at 7:28 am |
  8. JD

    Did the republicans really think that Christians were going to except a Mormon wearing magic underwear over Christian belief?!?! NOT gonna happen! Our Lord was crucified once, not letting it happen again! This country was built on In God We Trust, not on magic underwear and imaginary multiple wife's when we die! That's why flea party Romney lost.

    February 25, 2013 07:36 am at 7:36 am |
  9. Hugh Miller

    Romney was majorly OUT-OF-TOUCH with the average American. The GOP missed their chance when they kicked John Huntsman to the curb. As a Democrat, it was Huntsman who I feared could beat Obama. I cheered when Romney got the nomination. So, is the GOP really the "Party of Stupid?" No, it's the Party of Insanely Stupid. Here in North Carolina, Republicans took complete control in January and have already begun working to ensure that they lose power for another 100 years. It's going to be a tough four years with Patsie McCrory (Loyal Apprentice of Emperor Art Pope) as Governor, but hopefully he and his cronies won't completely loot the state coffers.

    February 25, 2013 07:46 am at 7:46 am |
  10. Michelle

    Republicans were never true to themselves in 2012. They tried to demonize Obama by spreading falsehoods that he is muslim – yet they run a mormon out there as competition. They invest time and money into keeping people from voting and then back up their true feelings with that 47% speech. They say they they are for everyone – but then the person with the most money and not the the person who really spoke their heart became their nominee. All this added to the fact that Romney didn't have a lot of competition to begin with. That party quickly dispensed of the serious adults and all that was left was a car full of clowns – Bachmann, Cain, Newt, Perry, and Romney.

    February 25, 2013 07:47 am at 7:47 am |
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