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. AgrippaMT

    The principal blame for Romney's defeat falls upon Romney himself. His 47% speech to rich donors in Florida was the kiss of death. The death of his campaign was richly deserved.

    February 24, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  2. jms58

    Romney is simply a flawed candidate. It is very easy to see thru him for everyone except the living dead.

    February 24, 2013 04:49 pm at 4:49 pm |
  3. rs

    Romney killed his ouw campaign- just as Republicans are destroying their own party now.

    February 24, 2013 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  4. Richard Ryder

    Romney lost not just because he was not a good candidate, but instead by the Right Wingnuts on radio! I actually gave Romney a look until the likes of Hannity, Limbaugh, Ingraham, Levin, Savage etc, took up behind him. I think their rants and lies and untruths is what turned me and a lot of people who were looking at Romney. To me and many others, a vote for Romney was a vote for these nutcases. Even today, they still don't get it...THEY CAUSED THE LOSS FOR THE GOP!! Plain and simple. So don't blame advisors, Rove etc....blame Right Wing radio!!!

    February 24, 2013 05:03 pm at 5:03 pm |
  5. GOP = Greed Over People

    Want to know why the GOP failed and will continue to fail?

    The answer is in some of these bagger comments right in this thread.

    President O "lied" about Robme's position on the Jeep jobs?

    Guess that is why a corporate president had to publicly "refudiate" Robme's claim publicly.

    Yeah, we know it was liberal conspiracy, blah, blah, and more blah.

    The Dems "stole" the election, Christie the single most revered individual in all of America, "won the election for Obama" with a few words do praise, or just pick your excuse.

    Until the GOP realizes the general population is not as stupid or racists as the bagger base is, they will continue to lose.

    Oops, there I go "playing the race card"!

    February 24, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  6. Really?

    One dictionary version of conservative is "resistant to change"; one for liberal is "characterized by broad-mindedness. Before anyone goes ballistic, of course these definitions are broad and are not meant to be all encompassing. However, allowing that even part of each description is true would certainly explain why the media would tend to be more liberal.

    February 24, 2013 05:04 pm at 5:04 pm |
  7. TNPatriot

    Romney lost and the rest of the GOP will continue to lose because Americans have seen that the GOP and all of it's members are determined to sell this country, lock stock and VOTES, to the Koch Brothers.

    February 24, 2013 05:06 pm at 5:06 pm |
  8. skb1128

    He didn't know the reporters? He ran in 2008 and again in 2012. How much more time did you need Mitt?

    February 24, 2013 05:07 pm at 5:07 pm |
  9. David Karasek

    The Republican party lost because of voters. They did not lose because of pundits, strategists, campaign advisers, number manipulators, marketing wonks, rich people, multi-national corporations, or foreign governments seeking to manipulate the process. They are still losing because of complete lack of decency, patriotism and common sense.

    February 24, 2013 05:15 pm at 5:15 pm |
  10. Rob

    Blame him? Did he not get the memo err tweet from Romney's son saying that Mitt didn't really want to win?

    February 24, 2013 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  11. eagerliving

    @David: there was less than a 3% difference in the popular vote, how is that "not even close"?

    February 24, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  12. SFRich

    Romney positioned himself as the "trust me" candidate, while doing just about everything to indicate that he couldn't be trusted. He failed to provide transparency for his taxes and income—while maintaining accounts in offshore tax havens. His positions changed according to who he spoke to (or was it the weather?). He coddled the 1-2% and was caught on camera talking about "the 47%" characterizing them as takers/victims. His policies on the economy were fallbacks to those of Bush.

    In short, his "expertise" for the job was only that he was a governor and businessman. His accomplishments as governor were mixed—other than "Romneycare"—and his accomplishments as businessman shadowed by Bain Capital's predatory practices and outsourcing.

    However he might come across in 140 characters on Twitter, he's an empty suit!

    February 24, 2013 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  13. Jack

    The Republicans just don't get it. It's not the 1950s anymore. It's not the days of Mad Men. It's a much more diverse and complex country. And thank God for that.

    February 24, 2013 05:32 pm at 5:32 pm |
  14. JN

    "But there's no data to indicate that the primary was particularly toxic for it." I suppose the election results are not considered "data" then.

    February 24, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  15. Liz the First

    Yes, reporters have a 'disposition' toward Democratic views because they are in the business of reality and facts, rare and scorned commodities on this guy's side of the aisle. Stevens isn't to blame for Romney's loss, the whole ignorant, shortsighted, mean-spirited republican ideology is to blame. more Americans are finally seeing the repubs for what they are, the party of the rich, by the rich, for the rich, period! Americans, for the most part, are better than the republican party. they don't hate everyone and everything different, they believe in fairness and equality. they don't blow off facts just because they contradict religious beliefs. they believe in moving the country forward, not back to a nonexistent idyllic 50's fantasyland. the best thing the republican party could do for America is to disappear into the dustbin of history.

    February 24, 2013 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  16. Bert in UT

    Poor Republicans. The press is against them and the voters are too stupid. Solution: make your own news, restrict voter access, and change the rules to give extra weight to Republican districts. All will be well.

    February 24, 2013 05:55 pm at 5:55 pm |
  17. thinkergal

    Quit making excuses! Romney was a terrible candidate and would have been a disaster as President.

    February 24, 2013 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  18. Drew

    I blame that complete dud the Republicans chose to carry their Presidential banner in '12.

    February 24, 2013 06:01 pm at 6:01 pm |
  19. dzerres

    Mitt Romney didn't submit himself to the voters: he submitted himself to the top 1% and those guys were all enthusiastic for his candidacy but that's about it as far as the electorate is concerned.

    February 24, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  20. Donna

    Romney made a fatal miscalculation. He thought that Americans still cared about having a job, working and getting ahead. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has rendered all that meaningless as the government is now the provider for almost half the country. Who needs a job when you can get government benefits worth tens of thousands of dollars for NOT working.

    Do think all those tens of millions of new food stamp recipients was a fluke? That was Santa Obama. Do you think the last minute "evolution" of Obama on gay marriage was really anything but shaking tens of millions of dollars lose from the gay community? Do you think instructing the Immigration service to stop enforcing the countries immigration laws (violation of his oath of office) was anything but Santa Obama buying the latino vote?

    And all the while the Democrats and liberals complained about how the election was being bought?! While Santa Obama was buying it outright. But did the LSM call him on it? Of course not because they have become the propaganda wing of the Democrat Party. There is no more free and independent press in the USA anymore. They have finally broken cover and shown what was suspected all along, they are a leftwing biased group.

    The USA doesn't exist anymore. Soon we will be a third rate bankrupt nation, just like Greece, just like Spain, just like all the other countries that have fallen victim to the fallacy of the far left. Where nobody has to work, you just take from others. Where the govenrment will take care of you and provide for every need, which they pay for by taking from those that work and produce.

    "The only problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other peoples money to spend."
    Margaret Thatcher (1970s I believe)

    February 24, 2013 06:03 pm at 6:03 pm |
  21. Steve Jackson

    Right now what the Republican party needs is a serious dose of reality, and failed strategists like Mr. Stevens are doing more harm than good trying to deflect the attention away from the true issues and lessons from the 2012 campaign. The Republicans had every reason to win the last campaign. They had unlimited pockets of money, a the ability to use that money to corrupt nearly endless people. 25% of the nation is gerrymandered out of the election process, which like any vote suppression system favors the right wing parties. They also had an economy on the skids. They should have lapped Obama.

    For years our party though has relied on Fox news and talk radio to keep the crazies in line. No one in their right mind in our party listened to either Fox or talk radio for pat data. At most you would tune it in to understand what the tinfoil hat types thought, then shut the station down in favor of rational news sources, even when we do not agree with them all the time. But starting around 8 years ago the tinfoil hat types and their single source propaganda news started to get power in our party. And they cannot listen to anything else but Fox. The Tea Party ran on fiscal conservatism, then took a weird turn into radical religion and big brother government looking into our bedrooms. Conservatives like me who believe in science and read Robert Heinlein were told go home, Heinlein was too liberal for the real Republican party.

    In was inevitable that we would start to loose elections once that happened. A Romney pollster called on me and asked me to vote on election day, and then proceeded to harangue me about things that are none of his business, and I decided to stay home. His last words are prophetic – Fox news says we do not need your vote anyway, it will be a landslide.

    He was right, he just got the candidate wrong.

    February 24, 2013 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  22. Educator 36

    Bain Capital was Romney's double edge sword.

    February 24, 2013 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  23. steve-0

    Another crybaby. He also did not submit himself to voters. He is a piece of garbage and there was not enough trash to elect him

    February 24, 2013 06:08 pm at 6:08 pm |
  24. Binyam

    Mr. Romney should take responsibility for his own failure as he ran against the interst of majority of voters .

    February 24, 2013 06:10 pm at 6:10 pm |
  25. Sane Person

    He lost because people are tired of the stupid party of the 1700's. Anti Science, Anti Freedom from religion, Anti women, Anti minorities, Anti anything that would help anyone other than old white men and corporations.

    February 24, 2013 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
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