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. CB FL

    It is not the messenger it is the message that they have.

    February 24, 2013 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  2. Randy, San Francisco

    Stevens still has blinders on. He just doesn't get it. Voters rejected Republican/Tea Party ideas like snake oil. He is wrong to blame the news media.

    February 24, 2013 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  3. rs

    If he thought tweets were dangerous, what did he think of Mr. Romney's lies? [i.e. Obama sold Jeep to Fiat who was moving all production to China]

    February 24, 2013 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  4. cbsna

    He lost - bottom line.

    February 24, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  5. bcrunner

    I was going to say "it's not the messenger but the message", but someone already said it for me. I don't think Romney is a bad man or a messenger, but the positions he held from taxes to women's health, to social issues is way off where most of the country is... not to mention how angry the country got watching the Republicans try to supress the vote in many states...

    February 24, 2013 12:18 pm at 12:18 pm |
  6. Name lynn

    Rommey is not the president, why is the media talking about the man an what he has to say. Please news media dont talk that man roomey.

    February 24, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  7. Gary

    "Stevens claimed reporters have a "disposition" toward Democratic views and against his candidate and Republican views. He did not cite specific examples."
    Reporters have a disposition towards the truth (whatever you may think of the mainstream media), much like scientists. They don't become reporters to further a Democrat agenda. Another tiresome episode of "Blame the Messenger"!

    February 24, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  8. wonderabout

    Tweets, Facebook posts just educated the voters to what Romney was really all about, which was protecting the uber-rich from paying their fair share to include himself – they also proved he was out of touch with reality! Blah, ditty, blah blah blah.... Republicans need to stop lying and scheming how to dupe the people they are paid to serve in order to deliver what their corporate owners order them to do – PERIOD

    February 24, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  9. T

    ..............Come on............leave Mittens alone............he's got other BILLIONS to take us for...............

    February 24, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  10. AB

    How about fielding a candidate that doesn't lie everyday and/or one that can represent the entire population – not just 1%?

    If you run for POTUS you'd better be prepared to stand in front of the whole world naked and let everyone take a close look. If you can't stand the heat – stay out of the kitchen.

    February 24, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  11. PeterD

    President Obama simply won because of the stupidity of Liberal Americans for not standing upto the Fiscal Responsibilty Crisis America is facing today.

    February 24, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  12. Carl

    Wow, you can see that with voters like "Name Lynn" this country will degrade down to their level eventually.

    February 24, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  13. marty

    Romney was being Romney, therefore, he lost!!

    February 24, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  14. Joe citizen abroad

    "news is whatever people decide news is." Thank you Captain Obvious.

    February 24, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  15. judith

    President Obama won because he stands with the majority of Americans. Mitt Romney lost because he stood for everything vile that Corporate American has done to destroy the middle class.

    February 24, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  16. RINO Bill

    To get elected president a candidate must do three things: (1) have a platform that is both positive and something that the public wants; (2) relate to the voters; and (3) appear confident, in control yet not arrogant. Romney did none of these things. His programs (which were designed to appeal to ultra-conservative only) were negative, "We're going to cut this that and the other thing on my first day in office." He related to rich donars, not voters. He appeared to the public as obnoxiously arrogant, yet not in control.

    February 24, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  17. bombastus

    CB FL got it right: it was the message not the messenger. The GOP is still in La-La land about why they lost. Sure, Obama clobbered them with organization but the GOP message is outdated as the demographics of this country changes. What is even more disturbing is the inability of the GOP to accept facts. Guys like Karl Rove are evil but still pretty smart (you would think) but he actually thought Romney would win. You'd think they would have hardcore statistics-types in the background figuring out what was really going on. All they needed to do is look at Nate Silver's predictions to know they were headed to defeat but they actually believed some miracle would pull this out. We live in age of sophisticated statistical analyses and predictive models that can get updated quickly with massive computer power. The GOP better start adapting to reality or we'll end up with a one party system.

    February 24, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  18. us_1776

    The GOP Excuse Factory at work.



    February 24, 2013 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  19. Smeagel4T

    Romney's problem was he thought Americans enjoy having their wealth plundered by Wall Street, and having the wealth created by their labor transferred to the wealthy. Survey after survey after survey confirms that Americans are the hardest and longest working citizens on the planet, but yet people like Romney and Ryan think we want to hear how the problem is we're not working hard enough. Really? We're supposed to work even harder so that even more wealth generated by our labor can be captured by the wealthy? Sure seems like a lack of incentive to me.

    February 24, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  20. NoCommenter

    He's finding fault in the wrong place – it wasn't Twitter, it was the Twit.

    February 24, 2013 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  21. Anonymous

    It was the message. It was the messenger. It was a great many things that the Republican Party has yet to fully understand or accept going back well past the last 4 years.

    February 24, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  22. frontgate

    Stevens claimed reporters have a "disposition" toward Democratic views and against his candidate and Republican views. He did not cite specific examples.
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA What a bunch of BS. But what would you expect from the Loser's side. HAHAHAHA

    February 24, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  23. 1twinsfan

    The Repubs put up a candidate who was almost a caricature of what people don't like about the GOP – absurdly rich, out of touch, elitist, insensitive, uncharismatic, pious man.

    February 24, 2013 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  24. marjee123

    ONE HUNDRED PER CENT CORRECT the public rejected Romney because of his policies which were tied to the republican party.

    February 24, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  25. Steven Colo

    Yep. Blame the media, yet again.

    February 24, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
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