Has Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney stumbled on the campaign trail? This is exactly the question that some analysts are asking following a number of events and incidents that allegedly show a disorganized internal campaign strategy. In a new analysis from POLITICO, blame for Romney’s current situation is being placed upon Stuart Stevens, 58, a top strategist for the candidate.
With polls showing Obama ahead of Romney — the Real Clear Politics average is currently 48.6 percent versus 45.5 percent — the situation is certainly not palatable for the GOP candidate. Naturally, experts are examining what might be the catalyst for what some are seeing as a lackluster performance.
POLITICO notes that a number of factors have potentially hampered Romney in recent weeks. To begin, Stevens has been blamed for scrapping the candidate’s original Republican National Convention speech, leaving the campaign only eight days to put a new draft together. Then, there was Clint Eastwood’s address, one that was met with criticism by liberals and some conservatives who found his dialogue with an empty chair less-than-stellar.
In the POLITICO piece, Stevens is portrayed as a figure who has caused angst within the campaign and who is “viewed warily by conservatives” due to his impulsive nature. One colleague even purportedly noted that the strategist is a “tortured artist.”
Taken in its sum, the POLITICO article — which includes comments from “Romney aides, advisers and friends” — is a less-than-flattering portrayal of the situation at hand. While Stevens is the ultimate pin cushion when it comes to the blame game, the article does mention that Romney, too, bears responsibility:
Stevens, in a lengthy interview Sunday afternoon, defended the campaign’s performance, refused to discuss internal conversations and insisted Romney is doing far better than the pundits portray. “Like all campaigns, we have good days and bad days. I’m happy to take responsibility for the bad days,” he said. “This is a tremendously talented team.”
To pin recent stumbles on Stevens would be to overlook Romney’s role in all this. As the man atop the enterprise — in effect, the CEO of a $1 billion start-up — Romney ultimately bears responsibility for the decisions he personally oversaw, such as the muffling of running mate Paul Ryan’s strict budget message and his own convention performance.
From the failure to mention Afghanistan during Romney’s speech (something that the original draft did contain) to the Eastwood debacle, the reasons for criticizing the campaign and, specifically Stevens, are purportedly plentiful, according to accounts presented in the POLITICO article:
As mishaps have piled up, Stevens has taken the brunt of the blame for an unwieldy campaign structure that, as the joke goes among frustrated Republicans, badly needs a consultant from Bain & Co. to straighten it out.
“You design a campaign to reinforce the guy that you’ve got,” said a longtime Romney friend. “The campaign has utterly failed to switch from a primary mind-set to a general-election mind-set, and did not come up with a compelling, policy-backed argument for credible change.”
In what many in the campaign now consider a fundamental design flaw, Stevens is doing three major jobs: chief strategist, chief ad maker and chief speechwriter. It would be as if George W. Bush had run for president in 2000 with one person playing the roles of Karl Rove, Mark McKinnon and Michael Gerson. Or if on the Obama campaign of 2008, David Axelrod had not been backed up by Jim Margolis, Robert Gibbs and Jon Favreau.
Asked if he had assumed too many roles, Stevens said he had big teams to help him in each area. “Everybody wears a lot of hats,” he said. “We’re that kind of campaign — very un-compartmentalized.” He said that making the ads in-house has been a huge advantage. “You can walk down and stick your finger in the cookie batter.”
One source — an unnamed campaign insider — claims that many staffers do their best to simply avoid Stevens. While he’s depicted in this way, the outlet also notes that he has had numerous past successes. Additionally, he worked on George W. Bush’s campaign in 2000 and again in 2004, and a long list of well-known clients on Stevens’ web site showcases just how successful the strategist has been in the past.
Despite these victories, another unnamed “Republican operative” called Stevens “a smart, capable guy,” but one who “sends bad signals.” This particular individual also called him “one of the most insecure guys in the business.” Others, too, seemed to indicate that the Republican operative’s background — he attended Oxford and UCLA Film School — may be off-putting to conservatives.
With the finger-pointing in full force, some sources who spoke with POLITICO seemed to indicate that, even if these sentiments are true, Romney has a history of sticking by his compatriots and that he likely won’t be making any changes before the election.
While these gripes may certainly be valid, there’s also a plethora of potential political ploys at play. Stevens, in the midst of less-than-favorable polling numbers, may be unfairly taking the overarching blame. After all, there may be a variety of catalysts when it comes to the negative coverage surrounding the strategist.
The first scenario — one that has already been presented — is that Stevens is, indeed, a loose cannon. Another alternative, though, is the notion that the campaign is faltering and is simply looking for someone to place the blame on. And a third and final potential scenario is that the media are producing a hatchet job on the Romney campaign during a highly-contentious political season.
Read the entire POLITICO analysis here and decide for yourself.