Political Animal


September 17, 2012 11:03 AM The Strange Fragging of Stu Stevens

By Ed Kilgore

The big DC water-cooler item today is the classic Politico insider account of the “disarray” in the Romney campaign, penned by Allen and VandeHei. It’s more or less a demolition of campaign majordomo Stu Stevens, who is blamed for a serial botching of serial drafts of Romney’s acceptance speech in Tampa, along with a general resistance to a bolder and more policy-specific campaign message.

So long as there is Politico this kind of piece will continue to be published. What’s odd about it, however, is the timing: this sort of fragging from within a presidential campaign typically occurs early on, when the pecking order is still taking shape, or at some other obvious transition point like the beginning of the general election phase of the cycle. Actually, this piece is savage enough that you’d guess it would have appeared after election day. So it’s not a good sign for Team Mitt.

Dave Weigel, however, suggests there may be less than meets the eye in this Beltway invisceration of Spencer and Romney; he traces it to just one person, speechwriter Matthew Scully, who is known for this sort of thing.

Even if that is so, you’d figure Romney would have enough juice to make this sort of thing grounds for permanent exclusion from Republican politics. By all accounts Romney is not about to fire Stevens, so dishing all this unhappiness with him to Politico is sheer destruction.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Hedda Peraz on September 17, 2012 11:20 AM:

    Clever rats abandon a sinking ship.
    Wise ones never climb aboard.

  • c u n d gulag on September 17, 2012 11:22 AM:

    I think Mitt Romney is, and always was, an empty suit.

    The Republicans made him out to be some super-competent businessman who knows how to crunch the numbers and turn businesses around.

    In reality, I suspect he was proably little more than a figurehead at Bain, who got to where he was because of his father's name - the guy you sent in after the real detail guys at Bain did the numbers-crunching work.

    The guy who came in at the end, to close the deal - since he looks like he came directly from Central Casting to fill an ad for "Handsome businessman-type wanted for role in movie about venture capitalism. Must have own expensive suit."

    If he really ran Bain, they'd have gone out of business decades ago.

    As the head of the Winter Olympics, he didn't "save" the games - what saved them was an influx of Federal tax money.

    And in MA when he was Governor, he was sorrounded by competent Democrats, so his tenure there looked good.

    E-M-P-T-Y S-U-I-T!

  • davidp on September 17, 2012 11:24 AM:

    Pass the popcorn.

  • c u n d gulag on September 17, 2012 11:24 AM:


  • Stetson Kennedy on September 17, 2012 11:28 AM:

    Whats odd about it, however, is the timing: this sort of fragging from within a presidential campaign typically occurs early on, when the pecking order is still taking shape, or at some other obvious transition point like the beginning of the general election phase of the cycle.

    I'm not sure this is necessarily true. This sort of thing generally occurs when campaign workers begin to realize that their candidate is losing badly, and try to be the first to apportion blame elsewhere. It certainly happened with McCain's campaign, when you got all of the late sniping about the Palin pick, and about the alleged lack of McCain playing offense.

    As another poster said, it is the proverbial rats jumping off the ship.

  • daveminnj on September 17, 2012 11:40 AM:

    i understand the backstabbing, but one thing that made the politico article sound strange to me was the implication
    that there was this great speech, a speech that could have turned everything around for romney if only he had the guts to deliver it, and that it was full of policy.
    and yet the source for this article never really tells what these brave and detailed policies are. so the backstabber who accuses mitt of being a wimp wimps out--(but it would have been great).

  • boatboy_srq on September 17, 2012 11:40 AM:

    I think we're likely to see more of this, particularly as Mitt shows just how bad a case of athlete's tongue he's developing. It can't be Multiple Position Mitt's fault that the message is getting trampled, so the high-ranking campaign staffer du jour will be jettisoned and replaced.

    This is going to be more fun than watching Murphy Brown to see what this episode's secretary does.

  • JM917 on September 17, 2012 11:53 AM:

    I don't follow inter-Republican machinations very closely, but am I correct in recalling that one Michael Scully was the secondary Bush speachwriter who dissed the alleged master-speachwriter Michael Gerson--he now of Washington Post eminence--as a plagiarizing, back-stabbling fraud?

    Good to see the Repugs fighting among themselves so openly. They and their candidate have nothing constructive nothing to say, so they p*ss all over one another about who's responsible for churning out...nothing at all. This stuff will go on until the GOP, as currently constituted, dissolves into a dew.

  • JM917 on September 17, 2012 12:03 PM:

    Even contemplating Repug rhetoric must make me forget how to spell. "Speechwriter," not "speachwriter." Ugh. I need a ghostwriter!

  • DRF on September 17, 2012 12:08 PM:

    It's Stuart Stevens, not Stuart Spencer. Fact-checking.....

    Oddly, the article doesn't explain what was wrong with the draft prepared by the first writer, nor what was deficient in Scully's draft. Ultimately, the speech given by Romney wasn't bad, nor was it exciting, elevating, etc. But then anything like that would have been uncharacteristic of Romney.

    You have to assume that the speechwriters were given instructions as to what to cover, what approach to take, etc. That they weren't allowed to sit with Romney before writing is astonishing, and certainly reflects a mistake of the campaign staff and of Romney.

  • joe corso on September 17, 2012 12:09 PM:

    Actually, as the money men like Rove start spreading the money around to the Senate races and away from Romny, the appropriate cliche would be that "The ship is deserting the sinking rat" rather than vice-versa

  • Ronald on September 17, 2012 12:12 PM:

    It is good to see this sort of sniping taking place in September.
    The Republicans can't blame the MSM for this stuff, they are eating their own right now. (Well, they will still continue to blame the MSM of course, simply because it is 'red meat').

    Important point:
    If they are still trying to shore up their base a month after the convention then there is serious problems. If the rabid righties don't believe that Mitt is there man, then he has to spend even more time/money/energy throwing himself rightward, leaving less time and energy and money to convince the half-dozen voters left in the middle that he is actually not as bad as he's had to portray himself for these last few months.

    You can see his 'dream campaign' in how he's operated. Money bomb his way through the primaries, spend the summer feeding the base, introduce the Mr Wonderful Mitt to the American people at the Convention, keep lying about the economy == win!

    Ha. Pass the popcorn indeed. This has been an interesting election cycle.

  • Kathryn on September 17, 2012 12:43 PM:

    IMO, as you run your campaign so too will you ruin, oops run the country. Seriously, no snark, Romney seems to lack good character, knowledge, grace, charm, COURAGE, common sense and every other good quality I can conger up.

    On a lighter note, do you suppose Mr. Rommey has such a upright, small step way of walking is because of the Mormon undergarment? I saw a depiction on the Internet and they look very restricting.

  • Robert on September 17, 2012 1:00 PM:

    Dear Mike Allen;
    Ed Gillespie don't have no stinkin' "juice"! Ask George Allen. Check out this interview where Allen spokesperson Eddie gets his hat handed to him by Chris Matthews.


    short version: buy my lies, and blame the media.

  • schtick on September 17, 2012 1:19 PM:

    I guess the 'control freak' isn't in control. So Willard, show us 10 years of your taxes and we'll stop talking about your empty campaign.

  • boatboy_srq on September 17, 2012 2:16 PM:

    So Willard, show us 10 years of your taxes and we'll stop talking about your empty campaign.

    At this point, you'd think they'd go ahead and release the paperwork, if only because what's in it is less damaging than the campaign itself.

    Captcha: andAGeo dagger. Watching Romney, all I can think of is: You know, in certain older civilized cultures, when men failed as entirely as you have, they would throw themselves on their swords. Maybe a geodagger is what Mormons would use for that.

  • anonymoose on September 17, 2012 2:17 PM:

    rats abandoning a sinking ship?

    Unless there is something I have missed, then where are the mass resignations from the campaign?

    Seems to me that there are plenty of ppl on the campaign who are willing to stick with it to the end and then try to latch onto another campaign, next election cycle (see "failing upwards").

    If you quit, then you are seen as a quitter, so the only way to fail upwards later on is to find a person to pin all of the blame on and hope things get marginally better towards the end of the campaign "See it was that guy who failed, not me!".

    I think the reason why we are seeing it now is that there are people inside the campaign who forsee a catastrophic landslide come election-time, and in that case, their careers would be totally over.

  • Sean Scallon on September 18, 2012 2:00 AM:

    No campaign manager, no matter how brilliant, can make the campaign more than the candidate himself. Ultimately Mitt Romney wins or loses because he's Mitt Romney for better or worse and there's nothing Stu Stevens can do about it. Asking him to run a better campaign with a God-awful candidate is little like asking Da Vinci to paint the Mona Lisa out of shit. You can't do it and if you made something halfway decent it's still shit. Thus with Romney, making the trains run on time doesn't take away from the fact nobody wants to hop on board. I wish political writers not put so much stock in insider campaign stories which makes it seem like the road not followed is always the correct one or matters if the guide is blind.