The Romney campaign’s serious missteps since the Republican National Convention are starting to cause internal turmoil, and the person Romney staffers frame as the scapegoat in a huge Politico piece is Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s top strategist.Stevens has three major jobs in the Romney campaign as part of a weird internal structure, according to Politico: chief strategist, chief ad maker and chief speechwriter.
The key question that emerges from the Politico story is how Romney — a stickler for detail and organisation — could end up with a campaign near total discord. Part of that can be attributed to Stevens, the wild card in an otherwise rigidly disciplined campaign.
Here’s a quote from Ashley Parker’s profile of Stevens one year ago in The New York Times, which helps explain the contrast that Stevens brings to an otherwise by-the-book, metrics-driven Romney campaign:
“He is not a political consultant out of central casting. When you sit down with him, you never know if the first sentence is going to be, ‘I’m going to sail around the world,’ or ‘I’m going to write a book about moon exploration’ or ‘I’m going to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.'”
That edginess is the running theme from multiple profiles of Stevens, whom BuzzFeed painted as “the most interesting man in the world” based on some particularly exhilarating bullet points on his resume:
- He skied the last 100 miles to the North Pole.
- He has written five books, including one fiction story “whose contents included transvestite prostitutes and a damaging memoir by a candidate’s ex-wife.”
- Another book, “Feeding Frenzy,” details his trip across Europe in a cherry-red 1965 Mustang eating in Europe’s Michelin three-star restaurants.
- The New Republic detailed the time he stood face-to-face in Cameroon with a “machine-gun-wielding soldier looking to shake him down.”
- He has written for a number of top television shows, including “Northern Exposure” and “I’ll Fly Away.”
- He’s a sports enthusiast, to the point where he biked the Raid Pyrénéen, a 450-mile stretch along the Pyrenees Mountains.
- He took steroids for the heck of it, saying he wanted to “experience first-hand some of the banned performance-enhancing drugs that are often abused in the endurance sports I participate in.”
Stevens has also worked on the campaigns of Bob Dole, George W. Bush and John McCain. In the 2008 campaign, he left McCain’s campaign in 2007 to work for Romney.
Four years later, Stevens ended up as the sole voice that Romney trusted with the message of his campaign. Leading up to 2008, Romney relied on a few big names in his campaign staff, including top GOP strategists Mike Murphy and Alex Castellanos. Castellanos was pushed aside for Stevens, and he hasn’t been shy about expressing his disdain for Stevens and his campaign strategy:
“I have no clue how Stuart sold his vision to Romney,” he told Politico in December, as Romney was facing a distinct challenge from Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary season. “I have no love for Stuart, but I don’t think a failed Mitt Romney candidacy is good for our country.”
“I wish [Romney] would run a campaign. Everybody who runs for president should,” he said. “Weakness is never a good strategy. Weakness attracts wolves.”
Months later, Stevens is painted in Politico as responsible for two glaring mistakes at the RNC — the final version of Mitt Romney’s speech that left out mention of U.S. troops, and allowing Clint Eastwood to take the stage and perform a bizarre, rant-filled routine with an empty chair without a pre-approved script.
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