These are notes from a session of republican consultants of the 2012 presidential campaigns, part of the Harvard campaign decision makers conference that took place a week and a half ago. There is some information that is valuable, almost eternally, certain mathematical formulas, a poem of succinct genius – some of what’s said in this conference would have been given great attention had it been revealed during the course of the campaign, and is now entirely ignored. This allows us to see much political news properly for what it is, gossip, much as the first couplings of some famed and beautiful pair are newsworthy in the days following the eventful night, and of no interest at all a century after they’re in their coffins. I was struck by the fact that, allegedly, Chris Buck, a Newsweek photographer, told the Bachmann team that his editors had given the specific task of taking a photo of their candidate that made her look bad; that Newt Gingrich made his campaign decisions in conjunction with his wife; that the supposed alliance between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul did not exist, they simply were not competing for the same votes; that the states look at putting a name on a ballot as a shakedown measure by which they can extract as much money as possible from a campaign, this, again, according to a member of the Bachmann team.
All this is now considered bygone gossip, of no importance now that the parade has moved on, with the most important points at this time, shown equal inattention by news media, those dealing with the tumult in the republican party. In their detailing of the process, one can observe the obvious tensions between the conservative establishment and the populists who are the party’s true power base: those candidates unfavored by the establishment and moneymen, anyone other than Romney and Perry, had to struggle for finances, and were grateful for entry in the many debates, which gave them exposure that they otherwise barely had the money to pay for. Despite their meagre finances, at least one of these populist candidates, Rick Santorum, nearly took the nomination, and may have only lost his grasp at the ring because of the very well-funded super PACs on the side of Romney.
Though it is never explicitly said, the logical deduction to be taken from the conversation is that the republican establishment believes that a crucial factor in its loss for the presidency is lack of control over the process: in order to win in 2016, there needs to be tighter RNC grip on the debates, rather than handing off control to the liberal media, whose goals do not converge with the party’s (this Politico article points out that this process has already begun), and a shorter primary schedule that would give populists less of an advantage and less possibility of exposure, with money of course concentrating around the candidates most desired by the GOP mandarins. According to the consultants here, the major problem that the Romney campaign faced wasn’t a lack of ideas, but that they did not have enough money, leaving them vulnerable during the summer: this means, undoubtedly, that an attempted remedy for this will be even more big donor money flooding the race to guarantee a win. That states shake down campaigns for fees is of no concern for the party, as such actions will deter smaller, less will financed campaigns from coming close to victory. All this will help the preferred GOP candidate from moving too rightward from centrist positions to compete with rivals, positions which will later cripple their bid in the general, and keep the preferred candidate from using up too much money in primary fights.
There is only one major obstacle to this: the preferred candidate of the establishment is often not that of the populist heart, the party within the party, the tea party: Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and most especially, Rick Santorum, were all preferred to Mitt Romney by this group. However, if this populist voice can be fully suppressed in the primaries, then they will, of course, always vote for the republican candidate over the democrat with perhaps enough of a chunk of woo-able independents to win the general. This is what just happened in 2012: the tea party did not want Mitt Romney, they did not like Romney, but they were a reliable bloc of Romney voters, anyway. Whether this corralling can be fully successful is an open question: Dave Carney, Perry adviser, states that even though the establishment very much may want to change to a shorter primary schedule, the GOP base would never tolerate it. Carney makes another important point: the party will not be changed from the top-down, through the ideas of various conservative intellectuals, and the RNC leadership. The RNC, he stresses is a legal entity that does some fund-raising, some technical stuff, and that’s it: it is incidental to shaping the party. Voters shape the party. The beginnings of this attempt at populist suppression and the populist reaction to it might be found in this past year’s rules change at the convention, described by Michelle Goldberg in “Rules Change Sparks Grassroots Boos at GOP Convention”.
Those expecting foreshadowings of a dramatic ideological change at the GOP will be disappointed: the Obama coalition is viewed as one tied to Obama specifically. Better transmission of the republican message to latino voters is emphasised, rather than mentioning any change in GOP policies, in terms of amnesties or visa programs. Many consultants discourage the idea that they need to become more like democrats.
I have not made a full transcript – where the entire independent expenditures session was of interest, this only had select points of relevance. The structure of what follows is: a summary with each sentence giving a quick description of the transcript, with a footnote linking to the fragment (notable moments are accompanied by the audio, all fragments are accompanied by indicators of the approximate beginning and end of the fragment in the full audio of the conference). The conference fragments are given in chronological order, but they should be coherent in and of themselves. I encourage anyone finding any interest in this to go to the Harvard campaign decision makers conference for the full audio. I have transcribed sections of this, and the full independent expenditures conference as this is one of the few moments such consultant speak openly and frankly (or as frankly as one can expect from such a profession), without the specific purpose of advocacy for their candidate, and, in a major break from form, on the record with attribution.
Moderators: Jonathan Martin (Politico) and Jan Crawford (CBS News).
Consultants, in no order (respective candidate is in parenthesis): Matt Rhoades and Stuart Stevens (Romney), Linda Hansen and Mark Block (Cain), John Brabender (Santorum), Matt David and Ana Navarro (Huntsman), Vince Haley (Gingrich), Rob Johnson and Dave Carney (Perry), Phil Musser (Pawlenty), Keith Nahigian and Brett O’Donnell (Bachmann), Trygve Olson (Paul), Carlos Sierra (Roemer)
The consultants are given a chance to ask each other anything, and there is silence1. Rhoades believes that the longer primary ultimately hurt the candidate2. Carney points out the conflict between what primary voters and the establishment want from the primary3. Brabender speaks out in support of the high number of debates, and helped to make up for their campaign’s lack of money4. O’Donnell is also thankful for the debates giving his candidate so much exposure5 (O’Donnell, a debate expert was, famously, let go by the Romney campaign for his outsize prominence in helping the candidate prep for these contests – this gets a mention in Robert Draper’s informative “They Retort, You Decide”, the main incident covered in “Mitt Romney splits with Brett O’Donnell” by Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman, the offending article: “Facing Second Loss to Gingrich, Romney Went on Warpath” by Jim Rutenberg and Jeff Zeleny). We’d like the debates better if our candidate was better at them, and they also tried to outflank each other on the right, says Navarro6. Hansen also stresses the benefit her candidate gained from the debate7. Stevens does not think the debates forced Romney to the right, but does think the debates were degrading to the candidates8. Musser does not think the debates, when conducted by the liberal media, are in the best interests of the party, but is unsure whether the RNC has the power to exert control9. Stevens further emphasises the lack of influence the campaigns have over the debates10. Musser says that the straw poll is a circus and a joke11. Carney and Johnson were originally with Gingrich, they explain why they left, and that the decisions of the Gingrich campaign were joint ones, of husband and wife12.
Carney and Johnson explain the sudden move of Perry into the presidential race, that the lack of prior long-term preparation hurt him13. Carney makes the point that Gingrich simply didn’t have the money for the extensive campaign that he wanted to run14. Johnson makes clear one of the reasons why Perry could enter the race – his access to a near unlimited amount of money from fundraisers15. Rhoades thought that prior to Perry’s entry, they felt their greatest threat came from Pawlenty, and that Perry’s campaign ended not due to his infamous gaffe (forgetting the name of a federal agency he wanted to get rid of), but because of the statements in his book Fed Up that social security was a ponzi scheme16. Carney goes into detail on how the absence of long-term prep prior to Perry’s entry ultimately doomed the campaign, then goes on a wild rant about the futility of candidate debates, then yells at Sierra because the debates were essential to his candidate17. Sierra hates the debates, because they were the near only chance for his candidate to get wide exposure and he wasn’t allowed in – now Martin yells at Sierra18. Hansen emphasizes the information value of the debates and questions whether the mainstream journalists are doing their proper part in this19. Olson complains of the way the debates ended up being Mean Girls, and speaks of the way Perry, with his regal motorcade, made himself into a target20. Carney again points to their lack of lead-up time as a factor in their inability to deal with attacks when they became a target21. Stevens believes the primary candidates were impressive, and many of them will be even more formidable in ’1622. Olson explains that Romney and Paul were sympathetic to each other, were not competing for the same votes, but there was no formal alliance23.
David emphasizes again that the format of the debates was to the detriment both of the candidates and the party24. Haley believes that Gingrich did well in every area, except in ads, where he was heavily outspent25. The pivotal moment when Gingrich swatted down a question about his marriage was unplanned, says Haley26. Stevens says that after they won New Hampshire, he was certain, whatever other states they lost, they would eventually win27. Stevens was not worried about Gingrich’s South Carolina win28. The moment that Gingrich angrily reacted to King’s question and the crowd broke out in cheers, Rhoades started concentrating on Florida29. Stevens explains a basic successful effective debate strategy, used by them against Gingrich: the most aggressive debater wins the debate30. Johnson talks about the major impact of Perry’s back surgery on his campaign31. Nahigian and O’Donnell talk about the double standard women candidates face when it comes to their appearance and health, and Nahigian argues that Iowa voters don’t vote for women in their legislatures, or for outside female candidates32. Hansen agrees that there’s a double standard33. Nahigian alleges that Chris Butler, a Newsweek photographer, before taking Bachmann’s picture for his magazine’s cover, revealed that his editors did not want him to take a good picture of their candidate34 (the cover was controversial at the time). Block says that they knew about the sexual harassment allegations against Cain before his entry into the race, and regrets that they did not dispel them through a press conference on Halloween35. Hansen emphasizes how important it is to prepare the candidate’s family for these things, because the media scrutiny during these scandals can be intensive36.
Brabender discusses the attempts to get Gingrich to quit the race, that the Gingrich campaign staff worked to get him to drop out of the race, so that a conservative would get the nomination, but Gingrich resisted this, and stayed in, perhaps an important factor in Santorum eventual loss37. Haley explains why Gingrich stayed in38. Haley explains that Gingrich took the attack ads personally, and wasn’t able to laugh them off39. Nahigian explains how getting on a state ballot now is a shakedown by the states for money40. Brabender says that they ultimately lost not to the Romney campaign, but to his super PACs41.Stevens explains how the noise of the primary ended up engulfing and tainting all the candidates42.
Rhoades talks about how you can only aim to win the primary, and then the general election43. Rhoades emphasises again the importance of the social security issue in defeating Perry44. When did the Romney campaign know their man was the nominee? Stevens says45. The burden of these campaigns on the candidate’s family: Stevens explains46. Why was Obama allowed to define Romney over the summer? Rhoades and Stevens give a detailed answer, with emphasis made on their lack of funds relative to the Obama campaign47. The Romney campaign stresses that they had no co-ordination with their super PAC, and that such organizations were both a gift and a curse48. Rhoades discusses the preparations made in anticipation of Bain Capital-related attacks, and the efforts to counter them49. Haley says that the “King of Bain” ad produced by the Gingrich super PAC was not, in fact, wanted by the campaign (this is a little surprising, since Gingrich had already attacked the Romney-Bain connection before the ad was produced, and Gingrich’s super PAC, Winning Our Future, got the funds to advertise the film from Sheldon Adelson, the main contributor to Gingrich’s campaign)50. Olson predicts that in ’16 all attack ads will outsourced to super PACs, to avoid any taint with the main campaign51. Stevens emphasizes again that the difference between the money their campaign and the Obama campaign had on hand was the reason they didn’t reply to the summertime attack ads52. David says that the Huntsman campaign did not succeed with moderate or conservative voters, nor did their super PAC provide them with the ads that they wanted, which, instead of portraying Huntsman as a moderate, played up his conservative credentials53.
David thinks that the republicans need to moderate somewhat, but that they lost this race because of technology and the difficulty of going against an incumbent president54. Musser does not think the Obama coalition will hold together, and stresses the importance of advertising on media that latinos watch55. Sierra thinks a more conservative candidate like Santorum would have resulted in more of an ass-kicking, Martin asks, so, someone like Bachmann, or…Sierra replies, more of an ass-kicking, Martin confirms: more of an ass-kicking56. Haley believes that making people’s lives better through conservative governing solutions is a winning message, with the policy to be more fully defined at a later time57. Carney believes that there is this misconception that a central party makes policy decisions, no: voters make decisions, the RNC is just a legal entity that does fund-raising 58. Johnson: Fox News is of incredible importance in terms of exposure during a republican primary 59. Nahigian believes republicans need to get back to small government conservatism 60. David thinks there’ll be at least one republican candidate in ’16 who’ll be pro-gay marriage 61. Brabender thinks there on dangerous ground if they try to be more like democrats 62. Olson believes the Obama coalition is not a long-term electoral coalition, and that the republicans need to take a less hawkish stance 63. Rhoades points to the incredible impact of the debates as his biggest surprise64. Stevens refers back to 2004, when it was believed republicans had a long-term electoral lock and argues that the current primary process is fundamentally sound and will serve them well in bringing about a republican nominee who will win the presidency four years from now65.
Jan Crawford: We’re going to actually toss out to you – because you were there from the beginning, formulating strategies, seeing what your opponents were doing. So we’re just going to say the first question, and the floor is yours. Come on, you guys. (Martin: what are the questions that have been on your mind ever since the primary (inaudible)?) (silence) (Martin: Dive in. Somebody dive in.) (laughter) (long silence) Come on, Keith.
Crawford: One of the things we were obviously tossing around was just the change in the rules to extend this campaign…the proportional voting. Any of you guys want to pick up on that one, what kind of impact did that have…did that draw out this campaign longer, ultimately to the nominee’s detriment in the general? Or did that as intended, allow for other candidates to come forward…Matt?
Matt Rhoades: Thanks Jan. Obviously, the process this time…this was why when we were doing our early planning on the Romney campaign, we never expected to win this early, because of the proportional allocation of the delegates…and early on, when the RNC was figuring out the rules, back in 2010, you know we knew that we didn’t want an extended calendar, we wouldn’t publicly say that, though…but behind the scenes, some of our supporters were focused on trying to keep the calendar a little less expansive, and…so we knew going into this, it wasn’t going to be…primaries aren’t easy, first off. (Martin: who was doing that?) There would be individuals such as Ron Kaufman, who works at the RNC, who were focused on that, but obviously, when the rules changed, publicly, we came out, and said we’re for it. Because, those are the rules. You can’t be against the rules. And at the end of the day, we knew we had to be patient throughout the process, and we knew there would be people who rose up to the top, and we would just have to stick to our strategy in the primary, but at the end of the day, we had to spend $87 million dollars, and we came out in April against an incumbent candidate who just had so much money, and maybe if it wasn’t an incumbent president we were going against, it would’ve been great for everybody, and I know a lot of people thought the Obama-Hillary Clinton campaign made Obama a lot stronger, and there were certainly parts of the primary that made governor Romney a better candidate, but at the end of the day, when we’ve spent $87 million dollars, and these are $2500 dollar cheques that we can’t collect, until after the convention, it was a disadvantage.
Crawford: So your bottom line is that that change ultimately hurt the nominee?
Dave Carney: If you care about primary voters than proportional’s the way to go, because 40% voted for somebody, and 30% voted for somebody else, those 30% should be represented at the convention…
Jonathan Martin: So you’re saying stick with it then?
Carney: No. No, I’m not. I’m saying if you care about what the primary voters have to say, then proportional’s a fair way to do it, if you care about let’s get this thing done, and cooked things get cooked, so we can go and try to fight the general election, then you want winner take all. (Crawford: Weren’t-) The establishment is let’s get this over, the guys with the money, people like you [journalists, the moderators] fondling over them every day, you want to get this over with. Everyone, in a year, everyone’s gonna know who…the conventional wisdom who our nominee’s gonna be in O-16, and that’s going to help drive that candidate, you know, pretty far. But primary voters, and our party is very small d democratic, I don’t think they would stand to go back to the kingmaker…what they perceive as the insiders telling them who’s going to-
Martin: It’s here to stay then?
John Brabender: But I would say it worked.
Martin: John Brabender.
Brabender: Representing Rick Santorum. Here’s…he spent between him and his super PAC about $27 million dollars. And went pretty darn far. Because of the way the system is set up, I’m guessing the nominee spent with his campaign and super PAC between the $120 and $130 million range. YET: we were able to have a continuous primary and not wrap things up after three states, which, I think for the party was a positive thing, I would even argue the prolonged debates was a positive thing and one of the reasons Mitt Romney won the first debate against the president. What I do think is a problem is when there’s inconsistency. Florida being a winner-take-all state, all of a sudden in the middle of nowhere, just changed strategies dramatically. Texas having to go to the end of the line because of changes down there, changed the system dramatically, so I think it needs to be more balanced and more consistent, but I would argue to many degree, the system worked.
Brett O’Donnell: The debates had a huge impact, both on the primary and on the general election this time.
Martin: Now, full disclosure, Brett, you’re a debate guy.
O’Donnell: I understand that, but I think that the airwaves were so crowded this time, that voters used the debates to make a lot of decisions about candidates, and that was seen in how the results bore out. I mean, Gingrich’s campaign came back twice on the back of debates. Our campaign was put on the map because of two debates. And Florida and South Carolina swung because of debates. I think debates matter, they give the public a chance to see candidates outside the paid media campaign, which I thought was pretty important.
Martin: Alright, what’s the downside of debates? I see Ana Navarro moving up to mike back there.
Ana Navarro: Maybe if our guy was better at debates, we would like them better. But since he wasn’t – I actually thought we had too many debates, and I thought it hurt in general-
Martin: What’s the downside?
Navarro: The downside was they tried to out-right wing each other, and we never got back to the middle in the general.
Linda Hansen: We feel the debates were very profitable, obviously the first debate especially helped Mr. Cain get on the map, shall we say? And help people understand who he was.
Crawford: If you guys remember, the focus group said that Herman Cain, who no one knew, was the winner.
Hansen: Not only that, but we didn’t have a lot of money, which was not secret. So the debates really helped to get out message out, but in a sense as well…I was just talking to someone from Minnesota who said, other than the debates, they really would never have seen the candidates at all. They said especially governor Romney…they said other than the debates, they never really had much contact. I feel that the debates, and the extra debates, are very, very helpful for citizens all across the country.
Martin: Matt and Stuart, did the debates push your candidate too far to the right you think, and hurt you in the general?
Stuart Stevens: No, I don’t think that’s the problem. I think these debates began with the best of intentions, then spun sorta out of control…the biggest problem from my perspective, and a lot of times when we talk here, we’ll be expressing our own opinions, not a unified opinion from inside the Romney campaign…we’ll have differences of opinions on things. My feeling is…having the news organizations sponsor these…began to give it a commercial quality…that at a certain point, became almost degrading to the candidates. And they should’ve been more serious, there’s something odd about this process…
Crawford: Can I interrupt? When you say degrading to the candidates, is there any moment or two that jumps out at you as examples?
Stevens: Well, I think the way the candidates are being introduced…it was sortof more of an “American Idol” kind of model, rather than a serious presidential debate, versus the way they’re doing the commission of presidential debates. They’re more serious. And there’s also something very odd about the branding of these debates, by large multi-national corporations, the CNN debate, the Fox debate, or the NBC debate. I think in an ideal world, debates would be put on, and news organizations would cover it, in the same way we do the rest of the campaign. We don’t have a CBS sponsored news conference, or a CBS sponsored rally. And I would like to think, ideally, in the future there would be some mechanism to control this.
Martin: Stuart, let me just follow up with you, if I could to the first answer that you gave, do you think the debates hurt your candidate in terms of how he ran in the general? The words “self-deportation” came out of your candidate’s mouth at the debate in Tampa. If it wasn’t for that debate, I don’t think Romney ever says that phrase. That wasn’t helpful for the candidate in the fall, was it?
Stevens: Listen, I think he was expressing an opinion.
Martin: But wasn’t that damaging to him in the fall?
Crawford: Going to Ana’s point, did the debates…and the media’s looking for interesting exchanges…did it push Romney to the right?
Stevens: I didn’t have a problem with it. I think when you run for president, I think you should expect to get asked tough questions. You should expect to be placed in a lot of situations where you’re going to be asked tough questions. And be that in an op-ed interview, or…wherever, there’s no gotcha quality, or ambush quality to the debates, everybody knows what they’re doing, they’re up there…so…that doesn’t…
Martin: But he wouldn’t have used that phrase (inaudible)…he wouldn’t have used that phrase in a print interview.
Stevens: I wouldn’t…make that assumption at all. He said what he wanted to say.
Martin: But there’s no pressure on that stage to outflank each other on the right, when you’re trying to get the republican nomination?
Stevens: Listen, if you go back, one of the advantages that governor Romney had in this process, in general, but in these debates, was having gone through these debates before. And one of the things we talked about, was that debates are never about the room. And you’re gonna get booed. And that was very true of the tea party debate in Orlando. Which is a very raucous event. And we were laughing about it before. We said, this is gonna be like rock’em, sock’em. They’re gonna boo everybody. And it happened. It was fun. It just happens.
Phil Musser: I want to turn your question a little bit forward looking, because you asked about 2016, and here’s what I think is gonna happen, because some of the viewpoints in this room are being reflected. I think you’re gonna find at the very beginning of this process, there was a good-faith effort to contain and limit the number of debates, and a lot of people in this room sat around the table, and said is this a good idea or a bad idea? The problem was, we all had different interests, right? John Brabender and the Cain people and the Pawlenty people to some, but differing degrees at the beginning of this race, were looking at the right goal for the party in the debates…I suspect, as you look forward, the republican party will probably re-introduce that…meaning, the chief rub is why are we out-sourcing control of the debates to liberal news media organizations, why are we not, Stuart’s point, putting some kind of framework around this that’s got common sense, and giving it to people that, frankly, are going to allow us to drive our message, as opposed to, play into the narrative that…the scripts of the major news organizations right [sic]. I think that process will be re-visited formally, in the next year, and it’s something you should look for, because there are probably too many of these things.
Crawford: Is that something the RNC would take control of?
Musser: Therein lies the rub, because structure of the national party committee, versus the tea party movement [Martin: Yeah.] versus the interests and needs of the candidates, are very different. But I just think that it’s something that’s clearly gonna be re-thought about again, and discussed with more seriousness.
Stevens: It was very, very difficult trying to deal with organizations on the debates. Because ultimately the only power you have is that you won’t show up.
Crawford: But is that much of a power-
Stevens: No, it’s not much of a power. It’s like, “Okay, don’t show up.”
Crawford: It’s held against you, presumably.
Stevens: Exactly. Which means you really don’t have any power. Which means…you end up showing up. Which means…you lose control. (laughing) So you end up doing twenty debates.
Crawford: Let’s go…let’s stay on the straw poll.
Musser: I hope that one of the legacies of the 2012 campaign is that, talk to your presidential candidates: don’t chase the shiny object in the straw poll. It’s a circus, it’s not a caucus. It’s a joke. And we made a fundamental strategic miscalculation about the level of investment we chose to deploy there, in part necessitated by the need to gain traction and momentum, and try to secure financial support, but ultimately, the straw poll, I think has run its course, in terms of the contest for Iowa, in that it’s unrepresentative of the broader contours of the caucus going electorate that turns out, and, interestingly, it’s really more of a celebrity contest…I’ve worked with Keith Nahigian in 1996, he’s probably the best organizer I’ve ever met in republican politics, and the fact that Michele Bachmann got into the race in May, and managed to win the straw poll in August, is amazing. Because it’s not just something you wake up and think about doing. It takes a lot of planning and timing.
Martin: We heard so much from Newt about the consultant driven campaign that he was forced to run in the early part of his bid…what exactly did he mean by that from your perspective, and what exactly did you guys want him to do that he pushed back on?
Rob Johnson: Well, first of all we couldn’t force Newt to do anything. So, if it was consultant…it was Newt driven…and…
Martin: Even back then it was Newt driven?
Johnson: Absolutely. And I think we were very honest when we…departed. That there’s just a fundamental, to use his words…frankly, there was a fundamental (laughter) difference of opinion on how to run a campaign. We-
Martin: What’d you want to do?
Johnson: I wasn’t a consultant, but the way. He was talking about Dave. I was the campaign manager.(laughter) But we felt like you needed to go to the states, and talk to the people, and do it more than a day at a time.
Martin: What’d he want to do?
Johnson: He wanted to go to the states and talk to the people, but a day at a time. He wanted to do television, he wanted to wait for the debates, and turns out, that was probably pretty good strategy.
Martin: How much of that was driven by Callista, his wife? The schedule?
Johnson: They were a team. (laughter) And so, I think, a lot was driven by the team.
Carney: For years…publicly, privately…he’s said he’s had no interest, didn’t want to do it. Thought he’d have a bigger role impacting the federalist movement, the tenth amendment movement from outside Washington, that was a very radical departure from everything he’d ever said and done over the years…to sortof position him to be a…try to help lead that states’ rights federalist movement, was designed to do that, and not designed to be a candidate for president, clearly. Had he given any sort of indication, frankly, “let’s think about it”, “let’s not rule it out”, “let’s wait and see”, I think there are hundreds of things that we could’ve done differently that could’ve better prepared to run. I think…when you talk to legislator, county chairmen, and political activists, in the early states, when you’re doing that days before getting into the race, and raising money, and getting up to speed on the issues, clearly that’s-
Crawford: So, did he have a grasp of how difficult it would be…getting in so late…when it dawn on him that playing catch up would be so hard?
Johnson: Before we answer that, I know that Matt and Stuart read the book…if he was going to run for president, he never would’ve written that book. [Martin: PONZI SCHEME] I mean, it’s what he believes, right, but you would have written that book later?
Carney: First of all, he’s a brilliant guy, and he has billions of ideas and he…he’s not somebody who’s looking for…he’s looking for help, he’s not looking for correction…but fundamentally, it comes down to finances. He did not have the resources, he did not have any financial infrastructure to support him…paying a bunch of consultants, hanging around, to implement a campaign that it wasn’t going to have the resources to execute. He wanted…originally we were going to…have a really aggressive, multi-million dollar effort, field operation, [Martin: Newt was.] Yeah, and we were going to do all of this new engagement, social media, and have basic, cutting-edge, sort of third way to run a campaign.
Johnson: And we always knew we could raise a lot of money out of Texas. Something else that was encouraging, I guess encouraging is the right word, in the latter part of July, we reached out to a national network, led by Peter Terpeluk, god bless his soul [Terpeluk, a former ambassador to Luxembourg, was involved in early Perry fund-raising, and died in August 2011). And...we would invite ten people, and a hundred people would show up in Austin, Texas. We were doing this three times a week. So, we were seeing three hundred national fund-raisers - bundlers - a week. And at the time, only one in five of the McCain elite donor bundlers were engaged in the race, so four out of five weren't. And they were showing up in Austin, Texas to meet Rick Perry, and it was very encouraging.
Rhoades: First up, up to governor Perry getting into the race, the candidate in the race we were most concerned about up to that point was governor Pawlenty. Because, to the point that Phil Musser has made and their strategy...if governor Pawlenty was able to get through the travails of the Iowa straw poll, and was able to go on and win the Iowa caucus, he was one of those candidates that could pull it off with his retail politic way, both Iowa and New Hampshire. And if we had lost Iowa and New Hampshire to governor Pawlenty, things would've been pretty bleak for our campaign. When governor Perry got into the race, certainly we had a lot of respect for his record when it came to jobs and the economy, because the way people were talking at that time, you would think that every job that was created, was actually created in Texas. And up to that point, we had put an onus...or an emphasis, excuse me, on running a campaign focused on jobs and the economy. And so we knew this was going to be an obstacle to us moving forward, and that's why, very quickly, during the course of governor Perry's entry into the race, you know, governor Pawlenty had left, we made it a point to contrast on governor Perry's record. And it included the initial debates, and the interactions, on those stages, and obviously, Rob, made a point about Fed Up, and I give credit to Stuart Stevens as the individual on the campaign who fell in love with Fed Up, we just kinda executed on the strategy behind it, but we made...with Stuart's guidance, we decided to put an emphasis on governor Perry's position on social security. And not go after jobs and the economy.
Martin: Did your polling show that was his biggest vulnerability, Perry's?
Stevens: I don't think we ever really polled it.
Crawford: What happened with that campaign? Why after jumping in, skyrocketing to the top, becoming the candidate the Romney guys were most concerned about...then it all fell apart. Why? Was it the debates, did he get in too late, was it never viable, the money drying up? What was it?
Carney: Well, I could talk to my therapist...I still haven't...(laughter) It's one of two things: we made a lot of mistakes.
Crawford: Like what?
Carney: Small mistakes. (Martin: like what?) The biggest, big tactical or strategic mistake...if he was gonna do this, he should've started years ago. Chairman of the RGA, governor of Texas, the legislature meets 140 days every two years, he has a lot of time on his hands, he could've been doing lots of things, you know, going to help people around the country, to meet people, become very helpful in Ohio, in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, some of these important states, meet donors and things like that, so we didn't have that luxury of time. Two, we should've waited. We should've waited, actually, longer.
Crawford: You mean waited longer-
Carney: To get in. Spent more time...when he decided, is there a possibility, what (inaudible) taught me...the three questions we tried to answer...and put a framework or a plan together...it was based on, we need to get in, or Romney was starting locking people up, more than he had, he had a lot of people locked up already, and start fundraising...we had unlimited ability to raise money. That was not, ever, a problem. It wasn't a matter of how to collect it. The problem was the political side: political support, and governor Romney's team was excellent and had a long head start, and it was locking people up, and a lot of people were waiting to see who was getting into the race, we were concerned...we should've waited, until November, maybe. Or maybe the middle of October, because of the Florida move up, you know the declaration by the secretary of state to be on the ballot. It would've given us more to be prepared, more time to do some of the groundwork that's necessary, get better prepared on the issues-
Crawford: You wouldn't have had the September debates. (laughing)
Carney: Listen, this is the craziest thing about debates. First of all...
Johnson: First of all, they're panels. They weren't debates.
Carney: Whatever, yeah, exactly. This is the crazy...THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES NEVER DEBATES! Okay? It's a skill that's unrequired! Unnecessary! It's not the fucking - uh, it's not the (laughter) prime minister, he doesn't stand there and take questions for half an hour! NOBODY EVER QUESTIONS THE PRESIDENT! In public. There's never...you know, Putin and he do not argue on the red phone! I mean, this is crazy! (laughter) Number two, the RNC's never ever enforced anything! The idea that the RNC, like last time, would fix this problem, that's crazy! The establishment candidate is not gonna want to do debates, the front-runner, and everybody who has no money wants to get on for twelve minutes...on national cable TV. Because it's their shot! And it's free! You know, the idea that you go from California, to Florida, to California with a holiday in-between, ten days, that's illuminating...whatever happened to town meetings? Matt's 100% right. Candidates have to run their own campaigns.
Martin: But the [Buddy] Roemer folks – the debates were your candidate’s only shot?
Carney: WHAT KIND OF CRAZY IDEA IS THAT?!? (laughter)
Martin: Carlos, tell him.
Carlos Sierra: We hated the debates. We really hated the debates. I think we do need some debate reform. I think Stuart made a great point that it’s basically corporate sponsored…you know, it’s very undemocratic. I know you guys-
Martin: You guys were pining to get into the debates! NOW YOU’RE KNOCKIN THEM?
Martin: That was your whole strategy.
Sierra: No, everyone had their time to shine. And it was cuz of the debates. You either…Michele Bachmann shined…Perry…
Johnson: We shined before the debates. (laughter)
Sierra: Exactly. So…like I said last night, part of our strategy was, were the debates, and unfortunately we never got in. I know Gary Johnson never got in. And I don’t know what’s…we do need debate reform though. But it’s sad though that two governors were not allowed in.
Hansen: One of the things that I think we need to remember about the debates is…who we’re ultimately trying to serve, and that would be the citizens of the country. That would be the voters who are looking for information, many of whom never get to live in Iowa, and see the candidates, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but who do we serve? And as journalists, you know, what is your job? Your job is to give factual information to the citizens of this country. And so, we need to remember, what’s the purpose of the debates? And there’s positives and negatives about how many, where they were…you know, all that, and Stuart brought up a really good points, about who’s in charge of the questioning.
Martin: Trygve Olson, you are sitting next to Matt Rhoades, which is fitting to a lot of people in this room because there was much chatter about the Romney-Ron Paul-
Trygve Olson: I feel like Ron Paul at the CBS Foreign Policy Debate: sixty seconds. (Martin: Alright, alright.) But maybe we’ll be able to win another million dollars money-bombing.
Martin: What was the nature of the contact between the Paul campaign and the Romney campaign? Were you talking to Matt Rhoades-
Olson: No, I’m going to answer the- I’m going to use my own debate strategy, I’m going to answer the question I want to talk about rather than the- (Martin: I’ll follow up.) “This is typical media attacks”, to use a Newt Gingrich strategy. I think the thing with the debates, and there was some effort, and it started with a conversation between Jesse Benton and Ginsberg [Ron Paul campaign chairman Benton and Ben Ginsberg, Romney confidante], based off of 2008, to get all the campaigns together to talk about the debates, and try to impose a little bit of will back on. The problem with the number of debates is you can’t really get at it is because everybody has their own interests, so what ended up happening is “we’re not going over ninety minutes.” We don’t want to have a green room that’s six thousand miles away, so…Stuart [Stevens] and I have to ride around in a golf cart with a guy who gets lost because he doesn’t know where he’s going on the University of Tampa campus. And furthermore, why are Stuart and I are on the same golf cart because it only re-inforces the notion that we have an alliance from people like you? (Martin: No, but-) But: the important thing, one of the things that I think is missing from this conversation that matters, and the debates re-inforces this, and I don’t know how to refer to it any differently but there’s kindof a seventh grade girls, and I don’t mean any disrespect to seventh-grade girls, there’s kindof a seventh-grade girls component to this. And all the candidates are spending so much time at the debates, you know, like Bob likes Joe, and Joe doesn’t like Frank, and whatever, and so, like last time, Huckabee and McCain really didn’t, there’s been a lot reported on this, they didn’t want Romney to get the nomination, so they ganged up. This time, there was a tendency for candidates, as somebody would rise, everybody would gang up on them. The question I would like to ask is, to Dave, you know the one thing I couldn’t understand with you guys, when you guys did roll in, there was, you know, you had seven state troopers, and Simi Valley was the site of the first appearance, for everybody else, and all the rest of the campaigns were sitting around, here comes Rick Perry, he’s riding high in the polls, he’s got seven state troopers with him, he’s got this entourage, who’s he think he is, the prime minister of britain? Let’s all get him. And, I don’t know if there’s a way around it, but I do think…I always wondered had the “optics” of your rolling into this dynamic of people who’d been travelling…enter into the equation, because I do think it mattered. It certainly mattered in my guy going after you on Hillarycare.
Carney: In hindsight, would we have preferred not to have jumped into the race and had things go so well, I mean, things happened, and the poll numbers looking temporarily great? Nah, I wouldn’t trade that. I would rather have a longer ramp-up time. But once you get in, you sorta want that. We weren’t structurally sufficient to support that sort of meteoric rise, and we became a target just like most everybody else for their fifteen days in the sunshine. We were a target and we just didn’t have the infrastructure in place to support, that candidates need to-
Stevens: I just think it’s really important to note that…having run for president before was a great advantage for governor Romney. And I think it would be a great mistake to think that the candidates who are in this race that ended up not getting the nomination or maybe didn’t have such a good debate here or there, are not candidates who could be president. And who would not do a lot better next time they run. There’s nothing like running for president of the united states. And having run before is a great experience and I think there were a bunch of tremendously talented candidates that would do really well. And I think it would be a real mistake to look and say, okay, this stumble, or that stumble, that person’s not up to playing the game. Watch these candidates, I think a lot of them will come back and do really well.
Crawford: You know there would always be this effort to attack Romney by the alternatives, but Dr. Paul really didn’t do that in these debates. It looked like there were clearly some kind of bond or alliance that he had struck with Romney, why was that?
Olson: Matt [Rhoades], do you want to tell me what I should say? [Rhoades: Nah.] (laughter) There’s been a lot made of the idea that we didn’t attack, that we didn’t draw contrasts with Mitt Romney in the way we drew contrasts with other candidates, whether it was the debates or, you know, through our paid media, the reality is…we had lots of pieces of mail that drew contrasts. The Romney folks like to remind us about the day Mitt Romney announced, we raised one point seven million dollars off of that, with a pretty scathing “Mitt Romney is the establishment” But strategically, we were never in a place where we were competing with Mitt Romney for, essentially, establishment votes. And so, I think that matters. I think the other thing that matters is, on a personal level, and Stuart alluded to this, it matters to have done it before for a lot of reasons, but one of the things that mattered in that relationship is, and it’s been documented a lot, Ann Romney and Carol Paul, became friends…Ron Paul considers Mitt Romney someone that’s a friend. They had shared a journey that had gone on for four years and to some degree they’re at a similar station in life. They have five kids, so, you know, there were issues, certainly on foreign policy, where he disagreed with governor Romney, but strategically, you know, it was more important to draw a contrast with Rick Perry when he got in the race because he was taking votes, tea party type voters, from us in Iowa.
Crawford: You said the debates – you were speaking more broadly – you believe those debates actually harmed the party itself.
Matt David: Absolutely. I mean I talked to…I remember we did a debate and I talked to a friend that was outside of politics the next day, and he was, like, were you at that crazy Fox debate? And I was like, it was actually CNN. But yes, I was there. But, it tells me a lot. So, yeah, I think it did hurt the party.
Crawford: Why, because the candidates looked less presidential? I mean, does everybody agree with this? Or does this seem-
David: It’s like Stuart said, when we walk on stage, and it’s like a cross between “American Idol” and a football game.
Vince Haley: Dave mentioned about the financial limitations of the campaign [Dave Carney, speaking about his time at the Gingrich campaign] which made it very difficult to respond to negative attacks when they came. Gingrich, I think, was very successful in his approach, not just in the debates…he did very well in the debates, but also several public gatherings in Iowa that in key moments in October and November, he wowed the audience. So he was winning in many ways lots of support on the ground, not just in debates. But we were not prepared to deal with the onslaught of ads against us in Iowa.
Haley: Take South Carolina. You had two debates before the vote. I think…I forget exactly what the polling was that week…I don’t know how close it was…the first debate took place and I think Newt had two standing ovations, had enormous momentum, and then of course, the second debate, if you all remember there was this question that John King led off the debate with about the ABC News interview with Newt’s ex-wife, and Newt gave an answer, and the place erupted with a standing ovation, and I turned to somebody, and I said “Newt either won the primary right then or there, or lost it.”
Martin: Did he tell you guys before that debate that he was going to give that answer if the question came up?
Haley: No. Not me.
Martin: You didn’t know.
Haley: So, in South Carolina, the turn-out, if the figures are correct, there was a 30% bump-up in turn-out, in South Carolina. It shattered the record from 2000. A very positive momentum. And you go to Florida, which has eight media markets, you know, if there was a place to stop him, it had to be Florida.
Stevens: I don’t remember precisely, but I think there was, that one night…it was a double digit shift toward Newt after that first debate. Ten to fifteen points. And if you’ll notice, go back and look at it, in the second debate, the governor did not attack Newt. Because it was not a moment where Newt was attacking him. It was just one of those things that happened, that Newt, to his credit, seized a moment, he’s very good at that. And what’re you going to do? Just get out of the way. Florida…we always felt very comfortable about winning Florida. But we always felt that after we won New Hampshire, we could lose states, and just stay in, and we would win. We might lose some, win some, but that maybe this thing would go to June. But: we planned to stay to June. Went to the convention. Stayed to the convention. We were gonna do what it took to win, timewise. And we couldn’t control that calendar, so we were very steady and calm about it.
Crawford: Were you- how alarmed were you after South Carolina?
Stevens: Not at all. To be honest.
Crawford: Even though the state-
Stevens: Not at all, because-
Crawford: Your polling was up, though, you must have been surprised by-
Stevens: It was…listen, in politics, things happen. And Newt had great moments, the governor grew his vote, from four years earlier, he came in third, we didn’t see anything happening that was damaging to the candidacy, he didn’t lose because he had stumbled, he didn’t lose because he had been attacked, he didn’t lose because…his negatives didn’t skyrocket. Newt had a good week. I mean, give him credit.
Rhoades: Let me just echo, first what Stuart said…we had to stay calm in South Carolina…but I can tell you, fifteen minutes into the first debate in South Carolina, that was the last moment I thought about South Carolina the rest of the campaign. I simply shifted focus to Florida.
Rhoades: You gotta stay calm.
Martin: South Carolina was cooked.
Rhoades: You knew it was a great moment for the speaker. And-
Martin: This is the Myrtle Beach debate, the Fox debate.
Rhoades: The very first debate in South Carolina. Within fifteen minutes of the first debate, I shifted my focus on Florida. And, uh, you know, that’s when we went and double downed on our efforts in Florida. I forget the specific amounts of money we spent, uh, but traditionally, you do a thousand point TV buy, and for the Florida primary, we upped that to at least fifteen hundred, maybe more, but I don’t remember the exact numbers.
Stevens: There’s a rule of thumb, perhaps O’Donnell can speak to this better than I, a large percentage of the time, the most aggressive person in a debate when people are engaging, will win that debate. And we had pretty clear-cut simple goals, we needed to engage, and win.
Martin: I want to ask Dave Carney something, before we forget this. And that is, the question of governor Perry’s health. To what degree did his back problems impact his debate performance?
Carney: I think it had a big impact.
Martin: How so? He was in pain.
Carney: Originally, what the doctors and the patient thought, you know in terms of recovery time it was supposed to be very short period, before he could get back on to his regular routine, his whole campaign was built upon a very aggressive, arduous schedule of travel, and in order to make up for lost time, and just never…the situation during the summer and early fall…was just never completely right…it was supposed to be two weeks…and then it was four months…it was still a problem. It’s just a fact, it’s not an excuse. We passed tort reform in Texas, so we can’t sue the doctors for what they told him but my doctor tells me I need to lose a few pounds, I may not exactly listen to what he had to say, I listen to what I think I want to hear, so it could have been the patient (laughter) The patient, wanting to think it was two weeks. You know, and everything would be fine. But it was, it was a minor thing. Everybody’s a…this little procedure was minor. And everybody’s…in the governor’s mind, in the office’s mind, it was not a big deal in the slightest. It was an in and out operation, and-
Crawford: But do you think that had an effect on his debate?
Crawford: Was it just- was he on medication, was it just the standing, having to stand, and he was in pain?
Johnson: Yeah, it was the standing…it was the inability to get a decent night’s sleep…you know, the travel. It was more difficult to study, more difficult to get comfortable. Again, this is our specific problem, because we had no time, so we would go to a debate site to do something, we would want to meet with fifty people, have different meetings, try to reach out, to introduce Perry to different types of people that we would have spent the last five years doing, and so, you know, you can’t do that when you’re in pain. You negative meetings. You don’t want to have it. So you end up really hurting yourself because- in the debate, and the debate prep takes up so much time. But it was definitely a factor, not an excuse, we made many other mistakes. It was a problem.
Crawford: There was another health issue that was raised on the campaign trail, and that involved Michele Bachmann. Keith, do you think that had an impact on her campaigning, or at least the public’s perception, the media’s perception of her, as the candidate?
Keith Nahigian: It was incredible how much coverage it got. I mean, a person has headaches. Probably no one would be in this room- I thought it was- It went to the question of commander-in-chief, the button, you know, the phone, that kind of thing, I think it’s a higher standard if it’s a woman running for office, especially if it’s a state like Iowa, and, uh-
Crawford: Wait, what do you mean a higher standard? You mean women have to be healthier, and-
Nahigian: Well, women don’t get out of Iowa. Ms. Clinton didn’t get out of Iowa. Ms. Dole didn’t get out of Iowa.
Martin: So why’d you campaign there in the first place?
Martin: Why’d you campaign there in the first place?
Nahigian: Well, as a decision, you know, collectively we had to make. But if you look at the number of state-wide elected officials, there’s no women in the state senate, there’s no congressional members that are women, you just saw a woman first lady get beat in Iowa, it’s a different place, and I think the impact of that in a state like Iowa was a little bit more, and it’s kinda funny-
Crawford: You mean, the migraines? Had more- resonated with voters more?
Nahigian: I think it was a bigger issue. And remember it was an issue for like two weeks. It was kinda amazing. I mean, I was on the John McCain campaign in 2000, and we had to open up our medical records of John McCain and…post-POW camp kind of thing, and…that was kinda interesting, but…here we were, we were running against a guy with stage four cancer [Herman Cain], and they didn’t ask him a question about his health at all. It was kinda overblown, considerably. I mean, I was with her everyday, the entire campaign. I never saw her have any issues, at all.
O’Donnell: And I mean, we literally had reporters jumping into us, to ask questions about the migraine headache thing. It was absurd, and we also saw this in other ways…I mean, we saw stories about her nails, and about the dresses she wore, and nobody ever wrote about Mitt Romney’s tie, or-
Martin: His hair, all the time! That’s not true.
Brabender: They did write about our sweater vests.
Martin: There were tons of stories about Mitt Romney’s hair!
O’Donnell: No no no, there were way more stories about- In every debate-
Johnson: They wrote about us not wearing boots.
O’Donnell: What dress she wore, and what colors she wore, and why it was a bad color, her hair, I mean, I think there were a lot of stories that focused that were gender specific, and the migraine headaches opened the door to that.
Hansen: You brought up Mr. Cain’s cancer, and I think one of the reasons that maybe that wasn’t a huge issue is that because he was open about that from the very, very beginning. He spoke very, very openly about it. So, in defense of the media, in that regard, he was very open about it, but the, the point still remains that there is a double standard. They don’t talk about, “Oh, my gosh, how much did Mitt Romney pay for his shoes?”, you know, they talk about different things about women, and why is that? You know, we have kinda a joke on our campaign , with out team, if I would say something intelligent, they would look at me and I’d say there’s not just air between these ears. You know, and it’s a joke, but every woman knows exactly what I’m talking about…and I think every man might, because there is this mild double standard, and we say there’s no glass ceiling, but there is, in a way? Because we focus on things that are inconsequential when it comes to women candidates.
Nahigian: It kinda rolled into our Newsweek cover, I remember that. We sat down with a photographer, who said my job is to come and take a bad picture of you. And we?
Crawford: He said that?
Nahigian: Yeah, that was the first conversation he had with her. He said, “my editors don’t want me to take a good picture of you.” And we were about to cut the whole thing off…and like I’ve said, I’ve done seven of these, from working with male-female to working with governor Whitman in New Jersey, and it’s a different game. I mean, I remember when governor Whitman had a…ovarian cyst when she was a governor, and the New York Times had a picture, this big of her anatomy, and what was going to happen, and six months later, Giuliani had prostate cancer, and the press said, “let’s give him his privacy.” You know, it’s just a little bit different. It goes to the question of commander-in-chief, a little bit heavy and that particular issue lingered much longer than it actually was…they were looking for a story, that didn’t exist, and they almost couldn’t take the answer: no.
Crawford: When were you two aware of the allegations of sexual harassment? When…did you know about these when he declared his candidacy? Were you aware of them before they were alleged? When did you find out about that?
Mark Block: Well, we didn’t have an opposition research department. (Hansen: We’d done our opposition research, though.) Just like, when you sit down with a candidate, you ask them what’s going to come up? We were very aware of the national restaurant association allegation.
Crawford: So when he got in the race you knew about what had happened at the (Block: Yes.) association?
Block: And…we knew about it, and there was nothing there. One of the things that I would say we did wrong is not respond forcefully, sooner, to the national restaurant association allegations, because we knew there was nothing there. He made the decision I’m not gonna chase something that I know there’s no substance to, alright? It spun out of control, and if I had to do it all over again, on Halloween Day, we would have came out with the news conference and tried to put it to bed.
Hansen: The other thing that I’ve said often, I think, we could have done a better job of, in that regard is, actually preparing his family. Preparing his family for the rigors…they were great, they were 100$ supportive, Mrs. Cain is 100% supportive, she was with him all the way through every bit. But when the media came on the family so much, it took a physical toll? And that’s when Mr. Cain decided he needed to think. Because the physical toll it was beginning to take on his family, not only his wife, but many people know he had his fourth grandchild, born January 1st, so his daughter in law was in a late trimester of pregnancy, so he’s looking at that in terms of my first job as a leader is to be leader of this family.
Martin: John, one of the things that I know people in this room were fascinated by for a long time, was this dynamic of having both Santorum and Gingrich in the race dividing the conservative vote, while running against governor Romney. Can you talk to us about the nature of the conversations that your boss had with Newt, during that period of time? Because they were talking, I believe, on the phone and occasionally at the debates? What were they talking about? Was it ever considered that one would drop out and carry the banner?
Brabender: Well, most of those conversations were staff-to-staff. Rick and Newt did talk a couple of times, I remember that Santorum told me a couple of times that Newt gave him some historical reference to the 1920s and, you know, type of thing…of how it was going to play out again. And I think Rick reminded him it was a senator that had won that year. But anyhow…there was…when we got to what I would say the final stage of the campaign we felt there were three things for us still to get to the delegate count that had to happen. Number one was for us to win Pennsylvania, number two was for Texas, which was at least having some discussions to going potentially winner take all, because they were so late in the process, and number three, we had to get Gingrich out. And it wasn’t where we were competitive with Gingrich, but in many cases where he was getting now four percent of the vote but it was killing us.
Martin: Was there a discussion to get him out of the race?
Brabender: There was clear discussions between our staff and their staff, you know, I got the sense that their staff thought it would be in the best interest if Newt Gingrich would step aside and there would be some unified nature…I believe there was very close to that happening…
Martin: When? Do you recall?
Brabender: Early April. And I remember receiving a call saying that Newt personally had decided he did not want to do that.
Martin: From who?
Brabender: What’s that?
Martin: Who was the call from? Do you recall?
Brabender: I know, but I’m not going to share that.
Martin: And if that had happened, you think your candidate would have gotten the nomination?
Brabender: Well, I think it would’ve helped, I think that if you look in retrospect, people forget how close Rick did come to getting the nomination.
Haley: In terms of what compelled him to stay in, I think part of the polling showed that Gingrich vote was not going to all go to Santorum. It was going to be a split going to, some to Santorum, some to Romney. And I think he also felt that, and this is speculation on my part, that it would be seen more as an…alliance against Romney? That I don’t think he felt comfortable with…and he held out hope for doing well in Delaware, and possibly a Reagan-style comeback in North Carolina. That was a long-range hope, and it was slight and tenuous, but those are some of the reasons.
Haley: Well, I think when you don’t have…one of the things in hindsight, we would have done much better would, hopefully, have been a much stronger surrogate operation. Because it’s always better when others can deliver messages, as opposed to…
Crawford: Right. And coming from him…
Haley: From him. Or you deliver such messages through paid media, television ads, and so, absent those resources, I think Newt used the term one time, that if he’s a running back or fullback coming through the line and no one’s blocking the noseguard, then he’s gonna run over the noseguard. It came up to him to call out some of the inaccuracies in the ads that were opposing him, and to, you know this is…running for president is a very personal thing. This is, you know…Newt’s been a national figure for thirty years. He’s been a builder of the republican party…builder of the conservative movement…so, one cannot simply…take some of those ads and sortof wash it away and say, oh, it’s all part of a big political game, and it’s all ironic and amusing, and so…
Crawford: So, he took it quite personal?
Haley: Well, I don’t think…my vantage point? You can’t but help take it, to some degree, and…I think the challenge will always be, how do you take negative attack ads, and either match them, to some degree on television, or find a way to transcend it, because you have such an overwhelmingly positive vision of the future that those ads sorta lose their potency, or do you do it in a sorta charismatic way by tossing it aside, and we didn’t find that right way to do that. And so it’s a very human thing, and Mitt maybe he coulda done it in a better way, but…there you are.
Nahigian: One of the goals of this forum is to kinda look back at the process, I do think one thing that didn’t match up with this open percentage delegates as you would go through, it was going to prolong the whole thing? Was…it didn’t really get written about in-depth, and that was the burden of ballot access. Getting on the ballot in these states was dramatic, and certainly Romney had a huge advantage, he had money, he had started early, but these states have figured out that it’s a shakedown now, and it’s unbelievable, they just make up a price, you want to be on the ballot in the district of Columbia? Well, let’s make it a hundred grand. It’s an unbelievable burden, for the natural growing of a campaign. If you have to build it to go till June, and you’re starting in the beginning, and you have to suddenly take a million dollars to get on these couple of ballots, it’s gonna really be a hurdle…we always say the RNC can’t reform anything, maybe it’s something they need to address, some kind of a consistency, at least maybe in the first couple of them. We experienced Virginia: you had to make a decision. Are we gonna be able to be on Virginia? You had to go door to door in every single county, and every single ballot. People had to be there, individually, and I think some of our campaigns, if we would have been the alternative to Romney, we wouldn’t have been on the ballot on a lot of these states, and I think some of these other campaigns weren’t on the ballot.
Brabender: I’d actually argue it wasn’t the organization so much as it was their super PAC. Because, the way the dynamics changed, we could fight a battle, in one state at a time with the Romney people and do it quite efficiently, we found. The problem is, while we’re fighting in Michigan, the super PAC is hitting us with ads in Ohio and Illinois. (Martin: Right.) And that was the big problem that we were running…was that we could not control the message further down the road like they could.
Stevens: You know, we were going back and reviewing what ads we had run for this campaign, before this thing, because, we forget. The spot that we ran, more than any other spot in the primary, was a spot we called “Mass record”. Which we ran because, it worked. Which was about the governor’s record in Massachusetts…if we had it here, you’d say “oh, yeah.” And I think what you’re able to do though, in each of these states on the media was completely dwarfed by the conversation that was being held and that conversation became a loud argument between candidates. And that dwarfed anything that each of the candidates was able to do. So: when we came out of these states and finally secured the nomination and started testing, we found a remarkable number of people thought that governor Romney was catholic and was against contraception. And it’s because he had been in these debates, and it’s sorta like you’re in a restaurant, and you’re not really paying attention, but you hear this argument at this table, over here. And you get bits and pieces of it, but you don’t really know what they’re saying. That’s how most of the public looks at the primary.
Martin: But Stuart, you said earlier that the debates didn’t hurt the candidate in terms of pushing him to the right, but now you’re saying that he was seen because of those debates as- (Stevens: it’s not just the debates.) against contraception, that sounds like it hurt pretty badly.
Stevens: No, it’s not just the debates. Because after Arizona, there weren’t any more debates. It’s what you’re seeing on the evening news, it’s how it’s being covered.
Martin: You bring up a topic I’m really fascinated by, and that is…to what degree was your primary strategy geared around general election viability…which is to say, how much did being strong against Obama inform your primary strategy? I mean, certainly not wanting to retreat on health care was part of that…you didn’t want to apologize for creating this health care law here in Massachusetts…what issues especially were you guys sortof very, very driven by in terms of not wanting to hurt yourself too much for the general?
Rhoades: Obviously, we put a premium on just talking about jobs and the economy and the president’s record, and that’s what we tried to make the primary campaign about. Obviously, that’s forward looking into the general. But when you’re running for the nomination, you gotta win the nomination. And if you’re looking beyond securing that nomination too much, you are jeopardizing your chances of winning that nomination.
Rhoades: I regret that…I truly believe…people were shocked that we were going after governor Perry in a republican primary on social security. They were critical of us at the time, saying we were hitting him from the left…and, if you look through the unwinding of the Perry campaign, a lot of people put a focus on that one infamous debate moment. But, it was the very early debates, the first and second debates, (Martin: the heartless) and by the third debate, and this is well before the other moment, (Martin: Sure) I think governor Perry was badly hurt and I…in retrospect, I believe we probably could’ve just beaten governor Perry with the social security hit.
Crawford: When was the moment inside the campaign that you realised that Romney was the nominee?
Stevens: When senator Santorum withdrew from Pennsylvania.
Martin: It was never before that?
Crawford: So…it was an open question throughout whether-
Stevens: You can’t be in a fight, and not be in the fight.
Crawford: Sure. Because I’m going to ask you a question next.
Stevens: I think there’s something difficult to realize unless you’ve been through this, and seen how hard this is for candidates and their families. And how much candidates and their families are…they’re real people. And how much that affects the flow…of campaigns. It’s a…no one runs for president at this level who’s not a tremendously accomplished, talented person. And, a very driven person. And each of these decisions become very difficult. But it’s very, very tough on families. Very tough. It’s a very difficult thing to report on, because you don’t get close to the family, but for a campaign, and these people, it’s a driving force that is at the center of so much.
Crawford: Because we are supposed to be going through the conventions on our panel, and one thing I’d like to ask the Romney campaign, what was the strategy in the summer, when you were allowing the president to define Romney. So that you came to the convention having to introduce your candidate to the american people when of course, he’d been the target of attack ads for months?
Rhoades: Let me start it off by saying, we made the decision going into the general that the thing the voters needed to learn first was first and foremost about governor Romney, what he would do as president. And so that’s why we went with day one, job one. And that was the focus of our paid advertising over the summer. To the first question, we had at the very beginning, you know, unfortunately, we had gone through a long primary process we called the long slog, and spent $87 million dollars to secure the nomination, to become the presumptive nominee, and we were not going to take matching funds so that we could be more competitive down the stretch, so that meant that we were being outspent over the summer. And, we always understood that was going to be one of the bigger challenges that we had, even to the point where we did take out a loan at the end of the primary process going into the convetion, so we could stay up on TV, for a longer period of time. So that was our initial thought, Stuart I don’t know if you have anything to add.
Stevens: Let me make three points on this, because it’s often misunderstood here. First, the day that Mitt Romney announced, in June, he had, what, a twenty-five percent of the electorate in the republican primary. President Obama had close to the amount of votes that he got on election day. So, when you think about that, it means, what was governor Romney’s task? He had to win the primary against a bunch of formidable opponents, and I think these opponents have been underestimated by the press, frankly. Then, present himself to the public and go garner a majority of the electorate nationally. That’s a tough process. What did the president have to do? The president had to hold on to the votes that he had. And that is a very different process. He probably, if you actually looked at it, the president’s campaign, probably lost votes over that year. But they started with enough votes to win. You come out of a primary, you are forced to look at the situation of what do you need to do when you have to triage this? And it is, every day in that campaign, in those situations is Sophie’s Choice: and when people say, you should be doing this, you should be doing that, my answer is, you’re right. It’s like scheduling, you should be in Richmond, you should be in Des Moines. You’re right. But you can only be in one. And, we tested this extensively, and what voters, and this makes sense if you think about it, what voters wanted to know most was what Mitt Romney would do as president. And they desired more information about Mitt Romney, but what they really wanted to know was, what would this guy do as president? And that was the essential element that we had to fill with voters, to give them. And I would just say, the premise of the Obama campaign was to define Mitt Romney such that by the time of the debates, we heard the spin over and over again, that there would not be enough persuadable voters et cetera. That didn’t happen.
Stevens: It didn’t. I mean, all the national polls, his favourability was the same or higher than Barack Obama’s.
Crawford: So you don’t believe that the attack ads that they ran in the key toss-up states, which people in other states didn’t get, created a level of resistance that was just impossible for you to overcome?
Stevens: I think- No, I don’t believe that…the other thing was just the amount of money they had to spend, that we didn’t have to spend.
Martin: Matt and Stuart, I think Carl Forti and Charlies Spies are here. You guys couldn’t co-ordinate during the campaign, but now those restraints are gone. The truth can be told. What did you guys expect, the super PAC that supported you to be doing during the campaign? What were you hoping for, what was the discussion in the campaign?
Stevens: We didn’t talk about it.
Martin: There was never a discussion about, this massive entity outside that was blasting Newt-
Johnson: John, you don’t have time to sit around and talk about what other people are doing, you’re so busy worrying about what you’re doing.
Martin: So there was never discussion about what Carl and those guys were doing?
Martin: And what you hoped they would do in Iowa, and things like that?
Rhoades: There were parts of the campaign, during the course of the campaign, when super PACs were helpful to governor Romney’s campaign, no doubt about it. And I think the most obvious example is the baggage ad that Restore Our Future did, in Iowa. And Stuart and I were just reflecting and we should’ve looked at some…I’m not sure if our campaign did negative Newt Gingrich ad in December, leading up to Iowa. I think we were positive, so certainly that was helpful for the Romney campaign. But then again, you live by the sword, you die by the sword, super PACs were not helpful to governor Romney in South Carolina.
Martin: Newt’s super PAC went after you pretty fiercely, thanks to the man in Las Vegas [Sheldon Adelson], on the issue of Bain Capital. Did those attacks on Bain prepare you guys at all for the general election, or…if not, why weren’t you guys not more prepared in the general for the Bain attacks?
Rhoades: Obviously, we knew Bain would come up during the course of the campaign. It had certainly come up during governor Romney’s senate campaign in 1994. It came up in his gubernatorial campaign in 2002. It may even have come up a little bit in the primary in 2008, with some of governor Huckabee’s supporters. So, during the course of the primary season, the chairman of our campaign, Bob White, who was one of the founders of Bain, set up a task force which included staffers on the campaign, it included former Bain employees, and they just started wargaming this all out, in the fall. Literally, up on a whiteboard, what the attacks are going to be, (Martin: Fall of ’11) Fall of ’11, excuse me. Yeah, in the fall of 2011.
Martin: How much did the Newt and Perry Bain attacks hurt you guys? In the primary?
Rhoades: Well, I think in the primary, in the primary, there was a super PAC ad that was called “King of Bain” or a film…(Martin: I recall that) And within twenty four to forty eight hours, our Bain team was able to go through the film, and the ads, and find out that it was related to a company that was sold after Bain had actually owned it. So, it was viewed as inaccurate. So, what we were able to do was fact-check that and really make a push, an argument in a primary, that this was an attack on capitalism. And I think we were successful cuz we had organizations, news entities like the Wall Street Journal editorial board, conservative newspapers like the Washington Examiner, who called out speaker Gingrich and the super PACs that were perpetuating these attacks on capitalism. We even did an ad, when we had all these ads going up in Florida, there was an ad that we did that defended governor Romney’s record at Bain, and pointed towards these attacks on capitalism, so in the primary, I think we were successful with responding to that. Certainly, we set this group up in the fall of 2011, we thought these attacks could occur in the primary, we were a little bit surprised at the intensity in a republican primary on them, but we dealt with them.
Martin: If you guys could run your own super PAC, what’s the one thing you would have gotten your super PAC to have done for you? Either Newt or Romney?
Haley: Well, if I could just answer, I would say to change these rules to let the money flow to the campaign. The reforms should be that you should have unlimited money, with twenty-four hour reporting, and full disclosure. Our campaign wouldn’t have wanted the Bain attacks, we would have had more attacks on the Massachusetts record, drawing contrasts-
Martin: You guys didn’t want the Bain attacks?
Haley: No, it came completely out of the blue, it came up for the first time during one of the debates. Gingrich was not talking about the King of Bain, he was talking about Mitt the Massachusetts moderate. He was talking about his record. This was completely off the topic that we wanted to talk about, and the media became consumed by it. Now maybe there was an incidental benefit, that Santorum was completely washed out of the conversation for a couple of days in New Hampshire, because of all this attack on capitalism, but as Matt said, it was very effectively rebutted by Gingrich being seen as attacking capitalism. And we had many supporters, friendly supporters, who were quite displeased by what was happening, assigning to Gingrich and our team what we were doing. And, you know, there were times in South Carolina when the question could’ve been, do we continue on that vein? The King of Bain? And we didn’t. We focussed on other things.
Olson: But when we put up ads hitting Newt Gingrich, or Rick “Al Gore’s Texas cheerleader”, or serial hypocrisy, or whatever, Ron Paul had to put his own name on it, whereas when Restore Our Future was hitting Newt in Iowa, they could do it under somebody else’s name. And I think, really, when you look at 2016, you know, the first thing that everybody’s gonna run and do is, you’re gonna wanna run and get a super PAC to do your dirty work for you, so you don’t have to do that, and you’re gonna try and get John Downs [adman for Ron Paul, a profile can be found at the Washington Post: "The man behind the Ron Paul ads"] or your meanest ad guy, in terms of talent, go into the super PAC rather than internally, but then it’s outside the control of the candidate, which is unfortunate.
Crawford: Wanna pick up on what you were saying…so did you not have the money, to aggressively defend yourselves against the president’s attempts to define you over the summer, I mean was that why you didn’t- You said you spent $87 million dollars during the primary…
Stevens: Look, we spent all the money we had. (laughing) (Crawford: Right.) It’s not complicated. We had a primary that cost us $137 million dollars or something. The president didn’t have a primary, he had four years to build a war chest, which we didn’t, we had to go out and raise a lot of money in that summer…we spent all the money that we had, we had to choose what we were doing, and in states like Ohio, we were being outspent three or four to one. So it was not a…we watched this very carefully, and did what we felt and what our testing showed us was the most effective responses, given the limited options that we had. They had more bullets in their gun, it’s not an unusual circumstance.
Martin: Matt David, one of the bets that Jon Huntsman seemed to make after the ’08 election was that the defeat of John McCain was going to usher in a period where the republicans would embrace something close to a DLC [democratic leadership council] style of moderation…that there was an opening for someone in the party on the environment, perhaps on gay rights, to sorta move a bit to the middle, uh, obviously that calculation was mistaken in hindsight, but just can you talk to me about your candidate, and the sortof broader themes that he struggled with, of one day trying to be the conservative, but also trying to be more of a moderating force, and do you think the next time around, we’re gonna see more candidates in the GOP primary take a Huntsman like course in terms of trying to move more toward the middle? A more pragmatic approach?
Daivd: Well, yeah. This was actually reflected in the super PAC conversation too. Because we waited forever for the super PAC to come in, and then when they did, they came in New Hampshire, with an ad talking about how conservative we were, which was not really our message in New Hampshire. It was very unhelpful, but we struggled with…as I laid out last night, our initial path was to the left of Romney, but we hoped, what we had going for us at the end of the day, was he actually had a very conservative governing record in Utah. When you looked at it, and we hoped at the end of the day, conservatives would come back and give us a look. But it never happened.
Martin: Going forward as a moderate force in the republican party, are we gonna see more candidates that take the approach that at times your candidate took, of trying to say look, we’re not gonna win a general election by shouting at each other and trying to appeal to just our narrow base. Are more candidates gonna be emboldened in ’16 to take that approach do you think?
David: Yeah, I think we’re gonna have to moderate on some issues. Immigration, gay marriage, but I think Stuart wrote about this the other day in his column ["Mitt Romney: A good man. The right fight."], we are gonna have to…it’s very difficult to beat an incumbent president. Very, very difficult. So while we’ve gotta make some changes, I don’t think it’s a freak-out moment for us. I think one area, we were talking about this last night, one area where we do have to catch up, and we should freak out a little, is on the technology front. I mean listening to Jeremy [Jeremy Bird, Obama tech guy], about their analytics, and their data, and their technology, that’s somewhere where we need to step up.
Martin: We read so much about Tim Pawlenty and the Sam’s club for so long. And it seemed like the most promising message for your candidate was to be the populist, running against the rich son of a governor and CEO, and here’s the son of St. Paul. But he never fully embraced the sort of Sam’s Club messages, or ran against Wall Street, or ran that real populist campaign. Is that an opening, you think, that the party, going forward, more of a populist approach, that Pawlenty talked about, but never fully embraced?
Musser: Yeah, possibly. Just to build on Matt’s [Matt David's] point, you know, beating incumbents is very very challenging, and as you look at the potential field of 2016, I’m not sure that the Obama coalition that turned out in ’08 and O-12 can be reconstituted again by a nominee Cuomo or a nominee Clinton, against a nominee Rubio, a nominee Santorum, a nominee whoever may well run. And credit to the Obama campaign for turning out that coalition. I agree on the technology front, I think there’s obviously lessons to be learned there, and I suspect that the party will do due diligence and focus on that. And frankly, having no designated leader will lead to a period of somewhat disorganized chaos where a lot of us will get kicked out, that’s probably a healthy process, if an unruly one. And then finally I think, obviously the demographic challenge, most explicitly illustrated with the latino community is one that has instructive lessons. I think we didn’t spend enough money communicating there, early enough, if you want to understand functionally where El Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Mexicans, Cubans get their information, it’s overwhelmingly from two places on television, which is Univision and Tele Mundo. I would hope our party would look at developing a growth oriented, prosperity agenda, aimed at showing working-class latinos how a conservative set of principles could be good for them, and I would encourage our party to take the last $100 million dollars that went out the door at the very end of the campaign, and look at starting to communicate at the beginning of the cycle.
Sierra: You know if Bachmann, Cain, or Santorum would have gotten the nomination, it would have been more of an ass-kicking. I mean, I think, our party does need to moderate, I think minority out-reach is huge…our party’s dead unless there’s shake-up.
Martin: So if you guys had nominated a conservative like Bachmann, Santorum…
Sierra: It would have been more of an ass-kicking.
Martin: More of an ass-kicking.
Haley: I mean obviously money matters, message matters. I don’t know if I have a particular grand insight, other than…we have to grow the party and there’s nothing we can’t…there’s nothing that conservative governing solutions…we can offer conservative governing solutions to the country and attract a big majority. I don’t think this idea whether we’re a conservative populism, or moderate, or what have you, I think we’re talking about making people’s lives better, through a set of policies, and the definition of what that is can come later, but conservative governing solutions will be the way of the future.
Carney: I would say the biggest takeaway of this whole election cycle is that people have this misconception that there’s a party where people sit around and make decisions. Voters make decisions. Jeff Larson and Ben Key [Larson is a GOP consultant who worked on the 2008 convention;Ben Key is a top member of the RNC] don’t sit there and say “okay, we’re gonna be moderate here, let’s pick a little lighter, darker, whiter”, that’s crap. Candidates are good, they have a good message, they can win. Candidates are bad, they have a bad message, they’re gonna lose. And the media, and the elite want things nice and tidy and clean, and not messy, which is what everybody here but Romney became, and was, and they don’t like that. They like let’s get this thing over in January, so we have a whole year to beat up on the president, and the big chalk is no one…people think the headquarters of the RNC does something other than a legal entity to raise money and do technical things.
Johnson: Another interesting point, or thing that I learned, was how important Fox New was in a republican primary. You could sit in Washington, D.C., and talk to seventy percent of Iowans or sixty percent of South Carolinans…Carolinians…people from South Carolina…(Carney: oops.) Oops. I just think that Newt was on to something with that point. And I agree with Matt completely, we go to catch up with them in technology.
Martin: And Rob do you think that will affect future campaigns about going to Iowa and New Hampshire or do you think the candidates will do less of it because they can go to Fox and be on national TV?
Johnson: No. The candidates without money will do it, but the candidates with money will go press the flesh. And get on Fox from Des Moines.
Nahigian: My takeaway for the future is that our party has to get back to real conservatism, being able to show demonstrable differences in how we’re gonna govern, the philosophy of government, smaller government, and on the fiscal side as well.
David: When you’re dealing with…and Johnathan, you’ve written about this…vacuum, and trying to defeat the beast that is the Twitter, and Facebook, and…so keeping perspective about what you’re seeing as a campaign versus what voters are seeing, those are two different things…
Martin: Matt, yes or no, will there be a republican in ’16, in the primary, who’s for gay marriage?
John Brabender: The lessons I think we learned, we learned as a campaign, is one, winning a Saturday primary means nothing, (laughing) number two is…we’re getting into dangerous ground I think as republicans saying “oh, let’s start acting more like democrats” I think the biggest lesson we learned in the primaries is a lot of blue collar people who feel we no longer represent or understand their lives. And I think that was also represented in the general election.
Olson: Alright, I’ll be fast. Biggest surprise: how the media and pundits are over-buying into the notion that Obama’s coalition is a democratic / demographic coalition…
Martin: This is a primary discussion I’m talking about…
Olson: Oh. Well. I think that’s true in the primary too. (laughter) And the second one is, I think the republican party needs to do better among younger voters and there are real lessons in Ron Paul’s message.
Martin: National security? Should the party be less hawkish, do you think?
Olson: Well, I think you can have a discussion about national security that may not be Ron Paul is, but maybe someplace not where John Bolton is.
Crawford: What do you think in Ron Paul’s message will attract a younger generation?
Olson: Economic empowerment is a huge one. An emphasis on the fact that their generation came of age in a, if you’re thirty years old, you were in college when 9/11 happened, you’ve seen friends go to Iraq and Afghanistan, come back as different people. You’ve had two recessions…And Ron Paul is speaking to them about the fact that government is not necessarily the answer to their problems and they shouldn’t sit around saying “we need to rely on government”, and Jeremy [Jeremy Bird] yesterday said that the demographic group that Obama was worried about was younger voters…there’s a huge opportunity there, Ron Paul…thirteen thousand people at the University of California, Los Angeles campus, six thousand University of Wisconsin…
Martin: Same with Matt. Yes or no: will there be a candidate in the ’16 primary who will be, Trygve, for marijuana legislation?
Olson: What candidate are you thinking about, Johnathan (laughing)? (laughter)
Martin: Yes or no?
Olson: I have no idea. I don’t predict future-
Martin: Is Rand [Rand Paul] gonna run in ’16?
Olson: I would be arrogant to try and make an announcement for Rand Paul, but I’m sure you’ll be the first one to know if he does.
Rhoades: Surprise? The debates. The debates were important in 2008, but in the 2012 primary, it was just shocking how they shook up the race, week after week, and how many people were watching these things.
Stevens: I think my biggest surprise was the degree to which governor Romney was considered a front-runner. Even though he never led in the polls. It was sorta odd. Takeaway is, we seem to be in a moment now that is very narrative driven. If we go back and look at the November-December 2004 moment, it was filled with why there was a republican lock on the electoral college, why it was unlikely for a democrat to be elected president in the near future, and I think that’s a similar moment here…and I think the primary process in four years is likely to serve us very well. And to produce a nominee that is likely to win the presidency. And we should remember that.