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. spin

    Nixon's staff is stlll spinning, Dubya's staff is still spinning. Why shouldn't Romney's?
    Bad messages, and bad messengers. Staff are supposed to take the blame. It gets them jobs in the future. I don't have to believe it though.

    February 24, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  2. ThinkAgain

    Until Mittens and the GOP takes the first step (admitting they lost because all of their economic, military and foreign policies are all PROVEN FAILURES), they will never win elected office. Which is fine by me, but I am concerned with their latest efforts to jerry-rig the electoral college votes to favor losing Repubs.

    What a pathetic bunch of yahoos the GOP has become ....

    February 24, 2013 02:09 pm at 2:09 pm |
  3. OutbackMan

    Romney lost because of Romney. The guy flipped-flopped on so many issues I couldn't even count them. One day he said something, and the next day he said the opposite and totally denied what he said before. The GOP nominated a buffoon.

    February 24, 2013 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  4. shu

    In my mind there are three reasons why Romney lose:
    1. Republican party' s messages.
    2. Romney's flip flopping and dishonesty.
    3. Obama's great grass root organization.

    February 24, 2013 02:12 pm at 2:12 pm |
  5. ThinkAgain

    The GOP tried to make an issue out of 47% of Americans are parasites, thinking the rest of us were as dumb as their base and would not immediately figure out that number includes retirees on Social Security, veterans, working poor receiving assistance, the disabled, and any government retirees, including first responders, teachers, Secret Service, Navy SEALs, etc., etc., etc.

    When a political party actively lies to and tries to turn a nation upon itself, it should expect to lose over and over and over again.

    February 24, 2013 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  6. michaelanthonyfairbanks

    So, Twitter can be dangerous, eh? I know what that means. It means that it's something the Republicans can't control, and if it's open to the people it's not something they feel comfortable with. Remember when Wikipedia came on strong? The talking heads on the right had a fit saying, "Anyone can post anything on there," and started rejecting it. One group even started Conservapedia, which is a joke (good luck finding information on that site).

    Wikipedia was seen as liberally biased because it was free and open to anyone. That is precisely what Republicans find threatening, which is why this guy called Twitter dangerous.

    And then there's that tired old "liberal media" myth. While it's true that many reporters (maybe even most) hold liberal views, the people who are in the top executive positions do not. Reporters don't just report whatever they want. It gets filtered on the way up and manipulated.

    If the media is so liberally biased, then why is it that Fox was only one of dozens that reported the Lewinski story, or the Obama's Preacher story, and the Birther stories?

    And yet, even though they whine about liberal bias in the media, they still don't want people to do their own research through Wikipedia, independent media, and Twitter.

    It can't be both ways. You'll never gain back voters with that stubborn, unreasonable attitude about open-source media.

    Wikipedia and Twitter are here to stay, and open-source is the way of the future. Learn to adjust or get left behind.

    Try as you may, you cannot turn back the clock. We will move forward. Try taking the lead for once instead of constantly fighting every new idea that might actually benefit others.

    February 24, 2013 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  7. Name Erik

    Romney lost because people are sick of our foreign policy. Obama is just as bad ( even worse on economic issues ) but he won on foreign policy, I.e. getting the troops out of Iraq. Romney could've easily won if he took a cue from Ron Paul & made the Fed an issue & scaled back the pro war rhetoric.

    February 24, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. RomneyWho

    What is wrong with the republican party, are they that dense? Why do they choose to walk around oblivious to their own demise, their own self destruction . their wounds are self inflicted. What is it called when you keep doing the same thing over and over and over again but expect a different result? INSANITY . . . The republican party are mad, I tell ya, Mad! 🙁

    February 24, 2013 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  9. virginia

    what truelly happen was that Conservative were exousted by all the long campaing..it won't be the same next time around the battle/strategy will not be the same...it will be more fit to the changes that have taken place in the last 4 years...

    February 24, 2013 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  10. If we ignore them, maybe they'll go away

    Blaming the media? Still? They just don't get it. Republicans' lack of concern for the problems with which women, minorities, the poor, and middle-class Americans struggle every day wasn't fake news made up by hostile reporters. Voters saw it for themselves. Repeatedly. And punctuated by the incredible "47%" comment. Voters recognized the arrogance and lack of understanding repeatedly demonstrated by Mitt "Let-them-eat-cake" Romney. And they simply said, "Thanks, but we don't want it."

    February 24, 2013 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  11. John

    What a silly person. He thinks Romney lost because he did not connect with reporters, and so they did not report him well. Wrong. They reported him TOO well, including his own ugly speeches in private about the 47% of Americans who are not his concern. Sure he didn't connect with reporters-they are only people after all, and he connected with very few people doing anything else, either.

    February 24, 2013 02:34 pm at 2:34 pm |
  12. JOregon

    The real problem the GOP has to overcome is the dishonesty.
    If Mitt had stood up to The Donald's birther distraction I would have had more respect for him.
    If he had stood up to H*ckabee and his, "a vote for Obama is a vote for the fire of H.." line, I would have had more respect for him.
    If he had stood up to the preacher that said the election was between a Morm*n or a Mu*lim I would have had more respect for him.
    It was the uncontrolled weirdness that came out of the GOP that made me vote straight Democrat for the first time in my 60 years

    February 24, 2013 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  13. please......

    Oh, please. Romney lost because the public, thankfully, can see through a person "standing for" diametrically opposed positions on all issues, usually on the same day. "Romney" is a nothing. Thankfully, the public voted for something.

    February 24, 2013 02:40 pm at 2:40 pm |
  14. Evergreen

    Mishandled releasing tax return, ridiculed by British press (hence Mitt the Twit), thought money would buy the election, off-shore accounts, took flip-flopping to new levels... Don 't blame the media.

    February 24, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  15. Monomachos

    Interesting how many of the misrepresentations made by the Obama camp about Romney survive. Keep calling a guy a liar and pretty soon a lot of people believe it when in fact no lies were made. The Romney ad didn't say all production of Jeeps was moving to China – it said that Jeeps, formerly made only in theUS would be made in China which is correct – and now some are being made in Italy, too . If they are being made there, they aren't being made here – that was the point. What this election was about was Obama vilifying his opponent because he could not run on his own inept record – and from the comments here, the masses lapped it up because they were, in part, too lazy to go find the truth for themselves. Too many people treated this aa a popularity contest – instead of voting for the smartest, most qualified to deal with the economy candidate, many voted for the cool guy who fooled you into thinking he really cares about you as an individual.

    February 24, 2013 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  16. Woman In California

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


    Another story about right wing paranoia and I'll file it there. A typical republican who LOST, can't accept the loss and refuses to move on and learn from it. Non-story.

    February 24, 2013 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  17. Me

    Romney lost because he has Republican by his name, Bush assured this outcome in national elections for several terms to come. Found those WMD yet George?

    February 24, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  18. BeverlyNC

    Romney was a terrible candidate to begin with – even his own Party did not want him as their candidate. He had no values, no principles, no policies, no platform. He just went before whatever the audience was and told them what they wanted to hear and then went to the next place and changed his position completely to suit that audience. He got caught being a liar, a hypocrite, and someone who knew absolutely nothing relevant to being President. No one could have saved Romney from himself. Now even the Republican Party cannot even save themselves from total destruction. Their extremists are destroying their Party from the inside out and no sane Republican will stand up to them and get them out of their Party and get themselves back in touch with the reality of mainstream America. Until the Republicans find some sane principles, a soul, some humanity, and kick out their extremists they will continue to lose badly for a very long time. Blaming Obama for everything doesn't work anymore and it will definitely not work with cheating like voter suppression, disrespecting women (won't even pass the Violence Against Women law that has always been renewed immediately), and when the next Democratic President is elected after Obama's term is up.

    February 24, 2013 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  19. Facts don't Lie

    the Romney campaign was the WORST I have ever seen in my life of voting for POTUS. It was mixed up and confused, the message seem to change every other week and Romney didn't help with his constant posturing to the right wing no matter where he went...from the cheesy grits to the trees in Michigan being the right height. Then on top of that they would tell non facts and downright untruths about the president and would as they like to say "double-down" on them when called out with the facts. The "Jeep lie" in Ohio comes to mind and I think that helped kill their chances in the Buckeye state. But Mitt did the same in the primaries..heck if you have Newt Gingrich come out on national telvision and call you a liar then what more need be said?

    February 24, 2013 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  20. John

    At least 50% of the voters are women. When your party has a plank that says ' No abortions without exception' and highly visible, Republican candidates say women can 'shut down' a pregnancy that comes from an 'illigitimate rape' and 'God intends' a birth resulting from rape you have a very serious problem. This latest election was more about rejection of these outrageous positions than it was about rejection of Romney. Amazingly, I still do not see the Republican party doing anything to make things right with women.

    February 24, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  21. Just Me

    Typical Republican article. Mr. Stevens is just blowing on about the same old Republican crap. The Media is all Leftests and they are working against us, see Palin. The trouble is, the Republicans don't want the media to ask questions. They are afraid they won't know the answers. You can only ask the questions we give you, ahead of time, for you to ask. Romney lost because he is an arrogant, stuffed shirt, who didn't want to soil his hands by speaking to the unwashed 47%. If, and I say IF, the Republicans ever wake up and see the light, they will realize there are more people asking more question. There are more questions because the more intelligent people are not buying into the Lying Ryan Republican Party. The whole Tea Party thing is just so many stupid blind sheep followers being led by Nazi Party leaders. Hate, Anger, Lies, Phony Bible Thumping Religion, street corner preaching, and the need for a Monster Enemy can only be tolerated for just so long before the masses tell the republicans to shove off. That is exactly why the Republican Party has lost power in every election of the past four years and you can expect more of the same in the future. Stuipid is as Stupid does.

    February 24, 2013 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  22. craig

    The only error I saw in his thinking came at the end, when he spoke of "re-building trust" with hispanic voters. When, exactly, has the GOP had any trust that needs to be rebuilt? What they need to do is actually listen to these people...yes, they really are people not just "illegals" and then form policy decisions that take that viewpoint into account. They need to acknowledge that most of them, legal or otherwise, are contributing to the US economy...and actually WANT to contribute. They need to acknowledge that these people...in fact, all people...can and could and would contribute even more if given the chance. Until they do these things they can only be "trusted" to screw it up more and more.

    February 24, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  23. Engineer

    Christ, the GOP has been blaming and whining about the media since Nixon. Grow up already and take some personal responsibility.

    February 24, 2013 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  24. Majav

    This is all cake frosting. Journalists have a "disposition" toward donkeys because the GOP is out of touch and Romney was not only out of touch he was an incessant flip flopper.

    You can't strategize for a man that insists on using dynamite to catch guppies.

    If Romney is the consummate entrepreneur why did he try to sell horse meat to a nation of vegetarians?

    Give the consumer what he wants. A free and open society that honors dignity and choice. Instead, Romney tried to sell a throw back patriarchal world view that he knows better than anyone else. The egg on his face is not the strategist's, it is his own.

    February 24, 2013 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  25. cathy

    Whine, whine, whine

    February 24, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
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