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. Ann

    Romney lost cause the majorityof Americans did NOT like him andhe did not deserve to be President. He was a horrible candidate and the Republican party of today didn't help...it is so weak, th ecombination could not win dog catcher. These people need to get a life and realize they LOST! GET OVER IT!

    February 24, 2013 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  2. John

    Baloney! Romney, the "severe conservative" was anything but conservative. If he had gone after Obama with the same zeal that he went after his Republican challengers in the debates the outcome might have been a little different. After the first Presidential debate, Romney had the President on the ropes and in the foreign policy debate he was too gutless to even bring up the Administrations failure in Bengazzi. But Romney is not the only gutless wonder in the GOP. Even now they are afraid to bring up the fact that the President has already gotten one tax increase on the rich yet is asking for more. Get ready America we have become a dependent nation and when the progressives get to the bottom of the pockets of the rich they will be coming after the 98%. We are screwed!

    February 24, 2013 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  3. Kingofthenet

    When the Republicans stop blaming the Messenger, and start taking a look at their losing Message, they might improve...but I wouldn't hold my breath on that happening.

    February 24, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  4. Anonymous


    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 ... [ blah, blah, blah ].

    Look in the mirror - Dude - before you keep mouthing off, would you? You come to CNN with your conservative talk radio and conservative T.V. and conservative print points in hand hoping to impress us with your (lack of) knowledge while YOU simulataneously try to insult us with your (lack of) knowledge. The media does has its faults. First and foremost is its ability to remain stubbornly sure that they aren't the problem... we are. Why? Because people such as you keep buying into their propoganda lock, stock, and barrel. The Republican Party has the exact SAME problem in its stubborn refusual to understand why they can't seem to elect the unelectable. Even with the help of the media.

    So, no. It isn't "we the people on the left of you the people on the right" with the problem. But, you'd have to understand "we the people on the left of you the people on the right" don't buy BS as willingly as "you the people on the right of we the people on the left" buy BS.

    It's a lesson ALL media and ALL Republicans better come to grips with, and soon.

    February 24, 2013 06:34 pm at 6:34 pm |
  5. ohsnap

    I voted for the first time in my life this past election because the idea of Romney (and people who think like him) getting into the White House was the scariest thing ever. EVER.

    February 24, 2013 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  6. Scott

    Romney killed his own chances by not preparing for the general election and not having any meaningful proposals. Obama beat him in every swing state and won a mandate in the process. Republicans should have know better than to select a rich out-of-touch banker as their standard bearer after a major financial crisis caused the severe recession. I am not surprised given the party has gone downhill after Reagan left office.

    February 24, 2013 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  7. Seattle Sue

    I feel Mr. Obama is to blame for Mr. Romney's lost. Mr. Obama was the best candidate for the position, that simple.

    February 24, 2013 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  8. MoneyTalks

    the romney campaign-one of the worst managed in 50 years-maybe even worse than the dukakis or mccain disasters

    February 24, 2013 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  9. Thinker

    The whole republican message is wrong. Until they become more moderate, they will continue to shoot themselves in the foot.

    February 24, 2013 07:06 pm at 7:06 pm |
  10. Joel

    He should have advised Romney before each and every "private" event that nothing is truly private & he should always assume what he is saying is being recorded no matter what the surroundings.

    February 24, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  11. cbr

    There is plenty of blame to go around. Members of the GOP who insisted on a very conservative agenda and left no room for those who might disagree should be high on the list. Candidates moved to the right and then moved to the right again which forced them to explain their actions. The candidates were not strong enough to say no and to stay true to themselves.

    The GOP does not have room for anyone who does not adhere to this conservative agenda. Until the party opens up their ranks to those with differing opinions the GOP will remain stifled. Even now the nomination of Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense is a show of conservative opposition. The group of about 12 GOP Senators has united to deny Hagel the nomination In so doing they have allowed Sen. Cruz to make accusations which can not be proven and have not asked that he keep to the truth. This is the most telling problem with the GOP even for those who feel the Democratic Party is not for them.

    February 24, 2013 07:15 pm at 7:15 pm |
  12. philojazz

    In the article, Stuart Stevens is quoted as saying, speaking of Mr Romney, " He submitted himself to voters." Sorry, Mr Stevens, but that's not true. Perhaps if Mr Romney had released more years of tax returns, and perhaps if he had explained why he felt he had to have accounts in the Caymans, and exactly HOW his IRA managed to reach the size they did, ..... maybe, just MAYBE, then I would agree that he "submitted himself to voters". As it stands, Mr Romney showed that he was too afraid to come clean about who he was. And, what a surprise, he LOST. Not really that close a race. Sure, he had a ton of other problems, as did the entire GOP, but, back to Mr Stevens's quote, it's not true.

    February 24, 2013 07:28 pm at 7:28 pm |
  13. kamisama

    Information will destroy mis-information every time. The internet was there for people to fact check, and even though those who voted Republican did no fact-checking, the ones that did voted Obama. It only takes a few informed voters to win a Presidential race. How someone like Romney, who rarely told the truth, got a lot of votes so there is a long way to go, but with more and more people interested in knowing the truth and willing to look up data, the GOP is doomed. You just can't tell mis-truths and not get caught by enough people to change an election. Now the GOP is trying to Gerrymander the next election and change the rules... in other words: CHEAT to win, because democracy just does not matter to the Republican party any more.

    February 24, 2013 07:39 pm at 7:39 pm |
  14. myway

    It took a political strategist to see danger in Romney's campaign? It didn't need a strategist to see the writing on the wall, just good old political literacy.

    February 24, 2013 07:45 pm at 7:45 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    Oh that's so nice of you! But really we all know it's because of the Republicans failed policies and out-of-touch politics. Fail. Spin again...

    February 24, 2013 08:15 pm at 8:15 pm |
  16. Anonymous

    Really Stu that is quite generous of you. But we all know it's because the Republicans have out-of-touch policies.

    February 24, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  17. Chipster

    Mitt Romney was just an awful candidate. His history as a corporate raider (borrowing and selling stock to unsuspecting lenders and investors, splitting bonuses with his partners and top execs, then bankrupting the division and kicking employees out of their jobs with no pensions or health coverage) made him simply the worst candidate imaginable. His comments when he thought no one was recording him certainly revealed his callousness disregard for the working class and those who feel on hard times in a troubled economy. The arrogance and deceptive manner in which he claimed he was self-made and gave away his inheritance was exposed when Ann let it slip that they managed to attend college, pay for an apartment, etc., without having to work by just "selling a little stock now and then." It became embarrassingly clear that his name and family fortune paved the way for his success. He just became increasingly desperate and sad.

    February 24, 2013 08:18 pm at 8:18 pm |
  18. fred mack

    Romney lost because he wouldn't pass out entitlements to the lazy people who don't want to work!

    February 24, 2013 08:19 pm at 8:19 pm |
  19. fred mack

    Funny how you people bash Romney when you should be looking at obama ruining this country. Of course you can't see thru your God.

    February 24, 2013 08:23 pm at 8:23 pm |
  20. qqqqqjim

    Baloney! Romney lost it all by himself. Let's face it, the guy's a world class fumbler. He never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity! He came a cross as dull, not terribly bright, aloof and most of all, artificial. He should have beaten Obama off the break! I doubt if he could have beaten Carter in 1980.

    February 24, 2013 08:36 pm at 8:36 pm |
  21. snowdogg

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

    Ah yes... conspiracy rears its ugly head yet again.

    February 24, 2013 08:37 pm at 8:37 pm |
  22. N8R

    The problem with the GOP is their own making; Romney would have been completely electable had the GOP not pulled him so far right or added Ryan to the ticket. Sure he has no personality; however, as a governor he was moderate and worked with Democrats. The real issue is the division within the GOP and the pull of the party to the far right to the detriment of the country. As long as the party continues to blame the media, blame how their message is packaged, blame the voters, blame not smiling enough, blame diversity, or anything than their actual policies; the GOP will continue to fail. I hoped Obama defeating the GOP would cause the party to re-examine it's self as a party constructively and rebuild itself and once again work with the DNC to pass legislation. Guess we will wait until the next huge election defeat to see that happen.

    February 24, 2013 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |
  23. works4me

    This is all on Romney. He was all "I'm gonna... I'm gonna" never stating how. He often stated ignorant and demeaning things because he's an ignorant and demeaning person.
    Besides... Ann has to take some of the blame. She didn't want him to win. She didn't want to move into a smaller house, although she really liked the name.

    February 24, 2013 09:05 pm at 9:05 pm |
  24. khrustedmucous

    Republicans need to realize that our country is for all of us, not just a few of us. Our corporations teach teamwork as the most efficient and effective way to achieve results. Why can't we do that on the national level? Why can't we work together and support one another to achieve the best results as a nation?

    February 24, 2013 09:17 pm at 9:17 pm |
  25. Loki

    Willard lost because.......well because he's Willard

    February 24, 2013 09:26 pm at 9:26 pm |
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