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. longtooth

    Thirty per cent of Americans are right wing conservatives. They are absolutely convinced that the other seventy per cent would see the light, if not for the sinister liberal slant of the news media. They never explain exactly why the majority of journalists are evil anti- Americans, but I really wish they would.

    February 24, 2013 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  2. the serpent

    Boo-Hoo!!! The mean old media is to blame!!!!
    Romney lost because he sold out to the extremeists, and had the personality of a dead rat. When will these idiot neo-cons figure out that they are way out of touch with the majority, and until they get away from the far right, they are going to continue to lose?

    February 24, 2013 03:21 pm at 3:21 pm |
  3. Brian

    Romney lost because he was a very weak candidate.

    February 24, 2013 03:23 pm at 3:23 pm |
  4. john

    I watched one clip where Romoney argued openly, and arrogantly,with a member of the press. His 47% remark was a window to his true feeling, that is why it resounded. He was a loser from the get-go demographically. Furthermore, I don't think the republicans are "looking forward" to 2014, they will likely lose power altogether.

    February 24, 2013 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  5. SC

    mitt who?

    February 24, 2013 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  6. RW

    He somehow has forgotten to mention the 1000s of hours every week on right-wing radio and Fox that goes into bashing Obama and democrats. Something tells me that more than balances out any perceived media bias to the left – and that is really what it is – perceived. It just comes back to bad candidates and bad ideas. As a liberal, I'll be happy to hear them keep blaming the media because they won't feel the need to change their platform and they will keep on losing.

    February 24, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  7. David

    If he submitted himself to the voters...why did he lose so badly? The election wasn't even close. He lost because his message didn't resonate with the voters. BIG difference.

    February 24, 2013 03:41 pm at 3:41 pm |
  8. treblemaker

    Can you imagine reporting the Watergate scandal during this era of social media? News is no longer news, it is entertainment. There are no moral guidelines anymore. Yes, we are progressing-down the slippery slope of thought control. That is the liberal agenda. The conservative agenda is financial exploitation. Which do you prefer?

    February 24, 2013 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
  9. richeyrich

    The truth will set you free or show what kind of person Romney really was.

    February 24, 2013 03:47 pm at 3:47 pm |
  10. John

    No Body Care about Mitt Romney ,and the Republican they Lost and the Republican better get use to It , because the American People don't like what they are about. And the Tea Party are just a bunch of nuts cases.

    February 24, 2013 03:52 pm at 3:52 pm |
  11. gramma nance

    Rino Bill I TOTALLY agree with you! Well said. Mitt Romney has the personality of a clothespin!

    February 24, 2013 03:54 pm at 3:54 pm |
  12. Sam

    RINO Bill, You are right on! Couldn't have said it better.

    February 24, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  13. Sotzume

    The Republicans cannot help themselves and continue to point the finger at anyone but themselves. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann were two arrogant people who were so totally out of touch with the country that no one but the worst bigots and extremists could want them. I've never seen such a terrible candidate in my voting life. Romney, like all Republicans, had no new ideas, no specific plans to help the country's economy, had contempt for anyone but rich white men, hated women, gay people, black people, hispanic people and looked down their noses at the hoi polloi. Mitt Romney gave no compelling reason to vote for him and every reason not to vote for him. The media did it...yes, like every other lie the Republicans foist on us, say it three times and they think its true. Laughable, truly laughable.

    February 24, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  14. jim atmad

    I don't understand the problem. At some point, Mr Romney took every possible position on every issue.

    Who could disagree with that?

    February 24, 2013 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  15. lottie

    sometimes you just need a candidate with a message people want to hear. At least 47% of us do.

    February 24, 2013 04:15 pm at 4:15 pm |
  16. Eioljg

    No, it wasn't the media or twitter that made Mitt a bad candidate. He actually seemed to forget that with the media, videos, 'net, etc. we can actually look up what he did and said in the past and compare that to present statements. And he didn't look good in that light. Mitt was not to be trusted for what he said or did, unless you wanted a reed blowing in the wind.

    February 24, 2013 04:17 pm at 4:17 pm |
  17. Facts don't Lie

    I say take a trip over to CPAC next month and see just how the GOP is "evolving" and that will tell you why Romney lost. Just adding Bobby Jindal then Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to your party will NOT attract minorities any more than Niki Haley will attract women or Scott and West draw African Americans. People are not as shallow as the GOP wants to think they are and it takes more than what they are offering currently.

    February 24, 2013 04:22 pm at 4:22 pm |
  18. mark

    Its what happens when you look to be a king and down on your subjects

    February 24, 2013 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  19. dave devasier

    We need to stop all this hating on each other and come together with some great ideas to get us out of this hole we're in. It doesn't matter if your a tree hugger or you feel everybody needs to have a closet full of assault rifles. We are a very smart nation and we can do better than this.

    February 24, 2013 04:29 pm at 4:29 pm |
  20. jay howard

    It is absolutely stunning to see the consistent blindness of the Republican Party. They refuse to see their platform of hate as the reason they lost, and instead try to queer voter registration, gerrymander districts or corrupt the electoral voting system in order to get their weak candidates to win. It's insane.

    February 24, 2013 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  21. freedom

    The ones most accountable for the loss are the American people – they need to think for themselves again – like before we had the 24 hr news cycle and all the social media – get their news from many sources – don't rely only on soundbites – think about how our country started, the progress we've made, how you feel when you wake up in the morning and face the day – is it safe? is there opportunity? are you grateful? are you willing to do what it takes to make this country thrive again – to be self-sufficient? how can we sustain and thrive for future generations?

    February 24, 2013 04:37 pm at 4:37 pm |
  22. Adam

    Typical republican nonsense. I consider myself right-wing. The media gave Obama more attacks than Romney during the election. Romney actually had the media on his side. The problem for Romney was 47 percent moronic statement and his weak ground game. Obama of course being a former community organizer had much stronger ground game than Romney.

    February 24, 2013 04:42 pm at 4:42 pm |
  23. fernace

    I see, so Romney wouldn't submit to reporters because he was submitting himself to the voters!? 1st, he didn't submit to voters, wouldn't show his tax returns, wouldn't clarify worrisome statements, doubled down on many of them! 2nd, since when is a reporter not a voter? He also refused to denounce Akin, Walsh & Mourdock's 17th century views on ra.pe & abortion! He & his GOT-Party crew let us know loud & clear what their "anti-agenda" would do to the majority of voters! We, the majority, denounced it & voted for the inclusive guy! That's what happened & the only strategy complication worth worrying about! As has been noted, you can't hide the truth in this day & age! All it takes is for 1 citizen to dig for it using social media & spread it along to the rest of us! Makes it much harder to lie your way into office! BTW, I believe in fiscal conservatism & smaller government, but what was presented by the GOT-Party last year was mainly social & religious concervatism! It's why Obama won!!

    February 24, 2013 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  24. Chipster

    The Internet is a great tool for many reasons but, unfortunately, it is too easy for people to maliciously fabricate information and spread it. So many people are willing to believe false information if it is what they want to believe. Then they repeat it, thereby giving more people the impression that the false information is true. To make matters worse, too many people fail to verify information or do any fact checking. Perhaps they don't want to know that the information is false. For whatever reason, the result is too many people making too many wrong decisions based on false and misleading information. It's time for everyone to wise up and get a healthy dose of skepticism. Like the commercial says: "They can't put anything on the Internet that isn't true." - NOT!

    February 24, 2013 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  25. Dave Harris

    Republicans make every excuse for their failure except the obvious one: the voters didn't like them. Being the party of nasty old white racists and xenophobes is not enough to get elected anymore, since a majority of the country is not old and is soon to be not white. Their crazy notion that if the government just went away everybody's problems would magically be solved and money will fall from the sky didn't help either, since you'd have to be a complete idiot to believe that. Republicans didn't lose because of Twitter, or 'the biased media' , or because they're just such darned nice guys. They lost because they're Republicans, and nobody buys their brand of craziness.

    February 24, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
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