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. America Shrugged

    I'm sick and tired of pollsters and campaign workers telling us what they believe went wrong.. Social media, reporters, blah blah blah.. America didn't want to buy what Romney and Rove were trying to sell. Simple as that. Coupled with the palinism that the Media are the liberal elitists and shouldn't be talked to is just plain stupid. Blaming the 47%for all the ills in this country with your own billionaire friends in the age of cell phone cameras, twitter, FB, is also just plain stupid. Problem with GOP is that the Dems are beating them at their own game. Since Obama came on the scene, the Dem ground game has been a stunning success.

    February 24, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  2. keeth

    Blame anyone but Romney...so much for the Party of Personal Responsibility...

    February 24, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  3. clarke

    get over it, the voters rejected him, he has only himself to blame. They just can accept the fact that the American people did not want him. they never did and they never will. Let it go and move on.

    February 24, 2013 01:16 pm at 1:16 pm |
  4. Wild Dogs

    It's the message and the messenger people had a problem with. Message: 47% – enough said. Messenger: Mitt is etch-a-sketch. He changes his position like the wind. No one likes a milk-toast, no backbone person who lies out of all sides of his mouth. People have a tendency to distrust liars – imagine that.

    February 24, 2013 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  5. Ancient Texan

    The problem was not the message or the messenger; Romney let Obama and his PACs lay out the message that they wanted the public to believe that he had and never successfully disputed it There was over $200 million spent by the Obama PACS before Romney even won the nomination and were totally different than Romney actually believed and advanced and the gullible public believed the nagative ads.

    February 24, 2013 01:19 pm at 1:19 pm |
  6. Tom

    He lost. Thank the Lord.

    February 24, 2013 01:21 pm at 1:21 pm |
  7. jim atmad

    More lipstick!! We neet LOTS more lipstick for this pig we're trying to sell!!

    February 24, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  8. REGinAZ

    I don’t consider myself either a “liberal” or a “conservative” but rather simply a “moderate”, if you want, a “centrist”. On a scale of from “1” (the extreme left) to “10” (the extreme right), I’d probably be a “6”, maybe even a “6.5”, yet also on some things likely a “4”. It really doesn’t matter what I am but actually, more “moderates” are exactly what this country really needs, especially in politics and in both parties, then possibly we could see things getting done with compromise and cooperation. I simply think that people are what is important, that the majority counts and that is exactly what the current Republican Party has come to loose sight of, as they concentrate only on the few, the very few. Then they try to rationalize it by propagandizing, “but they are right”. That is literally and totally ridiculous, while offensively disgusting, simply being just self-serving for the few, the very few.

    February 24, 2013 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  9. Moderate

    Romney lost because he was a phony. He pandered to the right wing and lost all credibility. The GOP will not elect another President until they eject the evangelicals/teabaggers.

    February 24, 2013 01:41 pm at 1:41 pm |
  10. Ohio Citizen

    Romney lost in part because he is out of touch with most of middle-class America. It seems to me that much of the republican leadership share that problem with him, and form that reason I'm encouraged that 2014 will be very different from 2010. Democrats have awakened to then fact that moneyed interests will steal our futures and put it in then hands of the out of touch Romneys of the world. We aren't going to let that happen. By the way, social media helps us in that effort.

    February 24, 2013 01:44 pm at 1:44 pm |
  11. Fred Flintsone

    I think not being able to spell "doners" identifies you as a typical low information voter and therefore not qualified to comment on anything, much less vote. The United States is largely populated by economic illiterates who care more about non-issues like gay marriage and sustainability than they do the fact that our country is bankrupt. Not going bankrupt, but is bankrupt.

    February 24, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  12. donna

    No one wanted Romney. He was just the last man standing. Every choice for the Republicans failed to some scandal. Everyone, from Bachman, Paul, Santorum, Perry, Gingrich, Cain, and only then their last choice was Romney, as there was no one left.

    February 24, 2013 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  13. thomas

    It is the massage, the massage is wrong for America wrong for the middle class, but right for the 1% so you tell me if this man is worth even talking about. NOT

    February 24, 2013 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  14. Fantom

    I think the most obvious—and worst—analysis of this is—they still don't get it! They won't (or can't) blame themselves, their message, their tactics, their history...it's always someone else's fault, someone else is to blame!! Until they realize they work FOR this country and not the Republican party, they're gonna lose!!

    February 24, 2013 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  15. mommytwice

    so now it's Twitter's fault Romney lost? I guess it had nothing to do with the broken, 1950's message, the lies, etc?

    February 24, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  16. just sayin

    democrats rolled out a politcal personal assassination campaign that the lsm helped him carry out while protecting obama from his complete incompetence with the benghazi attack. and for that the country will pay the price of 4 more years of record unemployment, debt and deficits and a destroyed healthcare system. excuse me if i do not particilpate in the celebration.

    February 24, 2013 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  17. tarura

    In a desperate move to win, dems got repeat voters in swing states like Ohio which they barely "won"

    No landslide, no overwhelming support. Last election has simply been stolen. Now they'll choke with their agenda.

    February 24, 2013 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  18. hillbilleter

    This person is an advisor. Advisor's advise, they don't have the final say on what the candidate says and does. The candidate should have advisors with differing views so the candidate has enough input to make an educated decision. All these advisors were in lock-step, like the Prussian army. The candidate should have sought other viewpoints, should have had enough social skills to mix with people who were going to be questioning him later. Presented with a 1-dimensional candidate, that's all reporters had to go on. Liberals blame problems on the Conservative media; Conservatives blame problems on the Liberal media. Neither side wants to look at themselves and fix the real problems.

    February 24, 2013 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  19. USAPeasant

    Is the GOP still wondering why Mitt lost? Come on now Mitt was one of the most terrible candidates in modern political history, that much was apparent in the primaries and they still chose him. The GOP needs to stop propping up crap candidates like Mitt if they want to win an election. Yes, the GOP primary field wasn't the best to pick from, but they still had a handful of candidates that could have defeated Obama, or at least done better than Mitt.

    Where the GOP messed up is not only did they pick the worst candidate, Mitt, but in the process they also crapped on the actual good candidates like Huntsman and Paul thus ensuing the centrists either voted for Obama or voted for neither sides. The GOP particularly treated Ron Paul and his supporters like crap. After the disgrace the GOP showed towards Paul all his supporters I know either voted for Obama or voted 3rd Party. Even though the Paul supporters only make up 3-5% of the GOP, that's the exact margin they needed to beat Obama.

    If the GOP wants to win they need to first stop crapping on their good candidates and learn to build a coalition. That's how Obama was able to keep the DNC together to win in 2008. Secondly they need to stop propping up terrible candidates like Mitt because the fact is that most swing voters chose Obama not because Obama is great, but because the idea of Mitt becoming president was too scary.

    February 24, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  20. RSVP

    The 1950's mind set of the GOP still doesn't get why they lost. They have multiple problems that include both their message AND messengers.

    February 24, 2013 01:58 pm at 1:58 pm |
  21. David

    The truth is that our liberal media will not allow us elect a president that would be good for the country.

    February 24, 2013 02:02 pm at 2:02 pm |
  22. Kweso

    Why are we still talking about the election? Let's get to work, move on folks!

    February 24, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  23. al

    As an advisor – YOU STILL GET IT. All of you that advised Romney Should give all the money & perks that you received. All of you did a POOR job.

    February 24, 2013 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  24. ThinkAgain

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

    Facts have a liberal bias; not our problem you guys decided to not to deal with facts. Here, I'll cite a specific example:

    What was it Romney pollster Neil Newhouse said? “We’re not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers.”

    February 24, 2013 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  25. ThinkAgain

    @RINO Bill in regard to Romney's policies: "were designed to appeal to ultra-conservative only".

    I would add designed to appeal to the deluded and insane, given Mittens offered all the same policies that got our country into a mess in the first place.

    February 24, 2013 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
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