Inside the campaign: How Mitt Romney stumbled
Stuart Stevens. Mitt Romney’s top strategist, knew his candidate’s convention speech needed a memorable mix of loft and grace if he was going to bound out of Tampa with an authentic chance to win the presidency. So Stevens, bypassing the speechwriting staff at the campaign’s Boston headquarters, assigned the sensitive task of drafting it to Peter Wehner, a veteran of the last three Republican White Houses and one of the party’s smarter wordsmiths.
Stevens junked the entire thing, setting off a chaotic, eight-day scramble that would produce an hour of prime-time problems for Romney, including Clint Eastwood’s meandering monologue to an empty chair.
Romney’s convention stumbles have provoked weeks of public griping and internal sniping about not only Romney but also his mercurial campaign muse, Stevens. Viewed warily by conservatives, known for his impulsiveness and described by a colleague as a “tortured artist,” Stevens has become the leading staff scapegoat for a campaign that suddenly is behind in a race that had been expected to stay neck and neck through Nov. 6.
This article is based on accounts from Romney aides, advisers and friends, most of whom refused to speak on the record because they were recounting private discussions and offering direct criticism of the candidate and his staff, Stevens in particular.
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.
As the Tampa convention drew near, Wehner, now a “senior adviser” and blogger for the campaign, was laboring under an unusual constraint for the author of a high-stakes political speech. He was not invited to spend time with Romney, making it impossible to channel him fluently.
Nevertheless, Wehner came up with a draft he found pleasing, including the memorable line: “The incumbent president is trying to lower the expectations of our nation to the sorry level of his own achievement. He only wins if you settle.” It also included a reference to Afghanistan, which was jettisoned with the rest of his work.
Instead, eight days before the convention, at a time when a campaign usually would be done drafting and focused instead on practicing such a high-stakes speech, Stevens frantically contacted John McConnell and Matthew Scully, a speechwriting duo that had worked in George W. Bush’s campaign and White House. Stevens told them they would have to start from scratch on a new acceptance speech. Not only would they have only a few days to write it, but Romney would have little time to practice it.
McConnell and Scully, drawing on their experience writing for Vice President Dick Cheney, were racing to finish the convention speech for Romney’s running mate, Ryan (R-Wis.), the House Budget Committee chairman. It was the Wednesday before convention week. Ryan was to speak the following Wednesday, followed by Romney on Thursday.Source: www.politico.com