Top Romney strategist: No regrets, baby

People are already tearing this up on Twitter and in the comments to the Headlines item. A few points. One: In which alternate universe was Romney not supported by “D.C.’s green-room crowd”?

I appreciate that Mitt Romney was never a favorite of D.C.’s green-room crowd or, frankly, of many politicians. That’s why, a year ago, so few of those people thought that he would win the Republican nomination. But that was indicative not of any failing of Romney’s but of how out of touch so many were in Washington and in the professional political class. Nobody liked Romney except voters. What began in a small field in New Hampshire grew into a national movement. It wasn’t our campaign, it was Romney. He bested the competition in debates, and though he was behind almost every candidate in the GOP primary at one time or the other, he won the nomination and came very close to winning the presidency.

It was the “green-room crowd” that insisted Romney would be, and had to be, nominated because he was the only guy in the GOP field who was sufficiently well funded, well organized, and moderate to give Obama problems in a general election. And they may have been right; for all his faults, I’m still not convinced that anyone else who ran last year would have done better than Mitt on November 6. Why Stevens feels obliged to ignore that chief credential, his alleged electability, in favor of some bizarre narrative here about a grassroots “movement” of Romneymania slowly building around the candidate, I don’t know. There was nothing resembling a movement until October, after the game-changing debate in Denver and the final frenzy of the campaign gave Republicans new hope that Romney really might find a way to torpedo Hopenchange after all. Before then, people were making jokes like this. In fact, the very truth of what Stevens says about Romney trailing virtually every other candidate in the primary field at one time or another puts the lie to the idea of Romneymania. The reason everyone else, including Herman Cain, did a stint as a frontrunner is because so many grassroots Republicans were loath to nominate the architect of RomneyCare. Eventually he simply outspent and out-organized the competition, and that was that. But let’s not use his own base’s ambivalence towards him for most of the campaign as some sort of testament to his resilience.

Two: I’m not sure what his point is here.

On Nov. 6, Romney carried the majority of every economic group except those with less than $50,000 a year in household income. That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters. While John McCain lost white voters younger than 30 by 10 points, Romney won those voters by seven points, a 17-point shift. Obama received 4½million fewer voters in 2012 than 2008, and Romney got more votes than McCain.

Here’s the data that I assume he’s using, from the national exit poll:

Would you consider a young adult making $40,000 a year “middle class”? If so then, per the data, the claim that Romney won a majority of the “middle class” becomes more complicated. Besides, to suggest that Romney was a hit with the middle class because he won a majority of the 50-99K crowd is misleading. He got utterly destroyed among black and Latino voters of all ages, which makes me think he almost certainly lost the black and Latino middle class by wide margins too. (There were no race/income crosstabs in the national exit poll.) Do these look like numbers you’d expect to see of a candidate who’d been a true winner among middle-class voters?

The split for Obama on that question was 10/44/31 by comparison. My strong suspicion is that Romney won the $50,000+ group because he won big with whites and whites comprise more of that group on balance than they do of the < $50,000 group. And even if I’m totally wrong about all this and Stevens is right, what’s his point? Should the GOP take comfort in having won the middle class if it continues to lose in perpetuity because poorer voters are turning out in higher numbers?

Three, this is awfully ironic: “In the debates and in sweeping rallies across the country, Romney captured the imagination of millions of Americans. He spoke for those who felt disconnected from the Obama vision of America. He handled the unequaled pressures of a campaign with a natural grace and good humor that contrasted sharply with the angry bitterness of his critics.” Why is it ironic? Because it was Stevens, more than any other Romney advisor, who was blamed for being too slow to trumpet Mitt’s warmth and generosity early in the campaign, when Obama was busy defining him as a Gekko-esque ogre to ruinous effect. Remember this Politico piece in early October about Ann and Tagg Romney allegedly staging a “mutiny” over the campaign’s one-note anti-Obamanomics message? Quote:

Chief strategist Stuart Stevens — whom the family held responsible for allowing Romney’s personal side to be obscured by an anti-Obama economic message — has seen his once wide-ranging portfolio “fenced in” to mainly the debates, and the television advertising that is his primary expertise, according to campaign officials. Tagg Romney, channeling his mother’s wishes, is taking a much more active role in how the campaign is run…

In public and private, Ann Romney made no secret of her frustrations. Candidates’ spouses often think the husband or wife is getting a raw deal, and that they are better than the political caricature being drawn. But Ann Romney’s agitation was palpable: She felt the Obama campaign had dishonestly made her husband out to be something he is not, and was eager to see a more forceful response, especially one that played up his humanity. She wanted to humanize her husband; play up his charity; and showcase how in politics, business and life, he has tried to do the right thing, even when it was not popular.

She wanted, in other words, to show off his “natural grace and good humor.” Erick Erickson was hearing complaints about Stevens weeks before that along the same lines: “Frankly, he is the senior strategy guy and the strategy clearly is not working. All you need to know is that the GOP had three nights of prime time television coverage and the people whose kids Mitt Romney helped before they died got speaking slots outside of prime time in a convention designed to make people like Mitt Romney.” Stevens’s op-ed today is titled, “A good man. The right fight.” The real right fight would have emphasized much more heavily that Romney is, in fact, a good man.

Finally, I don’t know what to say about this:

When Mitt Romney stood on stage with President Obama, it wasn’t about television ads or whiz-bang turnout technologies, it was about fundamental Republican ideas vs. fundamental Democratic ideas. It was about lower taxes or higher taxes, less government or more government, more freedom or less freedom. And Republican ideals — Mitt Romney — carried the day.

He carried the day at the first debate, yes. Not so clearly at the other two. But in the wake of Project ORCA turning into the fail whale, how can any campaign vet dismiss “whiz-bang turnout technologies” that blithely? Obama appears to have won because he figured out a way to identify and then deliver droves of “irregular voters” to the polls on election day. Sophisticated data-mining and GOTV techniques were certainly key to that; given all the election fundamentals lined up against him, the fact that he nearly duplicated his electoral-vote take from four years ago makes me wonder if they were, in fact, decisive. Maybe we shouldn’t fault Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist, for overlooking the tech gap, but when the campaign is built on the alleged managerial genius of its candidate, someone has to be faulted. The “green-room crowd” assured us Romney wouldn’t get beat on nuts-and-bolts stuff; that was one of the biggest reasons to nominate him. And yet here we are, with the consolation of Republican ideals to get us through four more years.

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Jazz Shaw 1:01 PM on April 01, 2023