Top Romney Strategist Saw Danger 140 Characters at a Time
By Gregory Wallace, CNN
(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.”