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'The Real Romney': '08 Campaign Aides Say 'The Bain Way' Didn't Work

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A new book by two Boston Globe reporters dissects the campaign style of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
A new book by two Boston Globe reporters dissects the campaign style of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

The failure of Mitt Romney's first run for the White House was, in many regards, an illustration of how inapplicable a background in private equity is to presidential politics, conclude the authors of a sharply reported new book on the former Massachusetts governor.

Obtained in advance by The Huffington Post, the book "The Real Romney" is an exploration of Romney's business and political careers by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman, who have followed him from their perch at the Boston Globe.

Set to be released on Tuesday, the book includes numerous nuggets from Romney's failed effort to win the GOP's presidential nomination in 2008. For example, his campaign's first top strategist, Alex Castellanos, had suggested adopting the phrase "Yes, we can," only to watch as Barack Obama snatched it first, the book reveals. Also, former Sen. Judd Gregg, who served as Romney's national co-chairman, felt uninvolved with strategy decisions, blaming his freeze-out on the "egos" of campaign staffers, the authors report. Plus, Romney's South Carolina team pleaded with the campaign's national headquarters to drop its focus on social issues in favor of an economic message to steer clear of flip-flopper accusations.

The underlying thesis of "The Real Romney" is the most important part of the book: Despite pitching himself as someone who could bring CEO-like leadership and free-market-like efficiencies to politics, Romney exhibited a style ill-suited for the campaign trail, the authors report. The result was a decision-making process that was too slow and plodding for the fast-paced world of politics.

Mandy Fletcher, the director of Romney’s Florida campaign, said she had originally been attracted to Romney because "he was the turnaround guy and the business guy." But she also said that the delays and conflicts in the national campaign’s decision making demonstrated that "running the campaign is a very different kind of business. In the business world you have a lot of time, weeks if not months and, on some projects, years" to make and implement critical decisions. "In the campaign it may be an hour or minutes."

Warren Tompkins, Romney's senior adviser in South Carolina, came to the same conclusion: "The glaring deficiency in the whole operation was the lack of an overall strategy, no single person that at the end of the day raised his hand and said, 'This is what we are going to do.' Somebody has to run the railroad. The irony of it is all is here's a man who sets up apparatus to make decisions, look at the bottom line, cut to the chase, and the campaign was everything but that."

There are numerous examples of internal staff frictions caused by the management style that Kranish and Helman turn up. They quote Doug Gross, Romney's 2008 campaign chairman, lamenting, "We had a lot of data but no information" and certainly not the strategy needed to build the coalitions necessary to win the caucuses. They quote Bruce Keough, Romney's former New Hampshire campaign chairman, as being struck by how duplicative many staff positions were.

As he looked around, the problem seemed obvious. It was, as one aide put it, the "Noah’s Ark campaign." There were two of everything, it seemed, including the competing media teams. The Romney campaign spin had been that the candidate loved the creative tension, but Keough had noticed a change in the candidate’s attitude since the Iowa loss. "Mitt was a little less certain that he had the best campaign that money could buy," he said.

The authors report that Castellanos (perhaps a source for much of the book's material) contemplated resigning over that Noah's Ark approach, which was alternatively described as "the Bain way" in reference to the private equity company that Romney had led.

The campaign was splitting dangerously into factions, further heightening the state-versus-Boston tension that had been boiling for months. The new media team was on board -- [Stuart] Stevens and [Russ] Schriefer -- and Castellanos suddenly felt his authority in question. He protested to Romney and members of the inner circle, according to several people with knowledge of the conversations, and was told that this was not a demotion but rather an implementation of "the Bain way," a reference to Romney’s management style at Bain Capital. Romney said he wanted as many smart minds as possible in the room, with ideas fought over and the best rising to the top. Castellanos considered resigning but, out of loyalty to Romney, agreed to stay."

It's hardly rare for internal disagreements to plague a candidate's staff, and certainly not for one filled with high-profile consultants. But Romney and his Bain-way ethos was supposed to bring businesslike order to the process. In "The Real Romney," his aides declare that perception always outpaced reality and that a business mind-set didn’t lend itself to a campaign setting. Even Romney seemed to acknowledge as much when, as the New Hampshire primary results trickled in, he sent Castellanos an email admitting that he had been wrong to wrangle over the campaign's theme.

"Alex. Well, change was it -- just like you said from the beginning," Romney wrote. "Never found a better word for it. Change it is. And change we will have -- soon. Hope for the better ... Mitt."

"I never had a strategist," Romney is quoted as saying at another point in the book. "I had all the pieces of the puzzle but didn't fit them together."

All of which may explain why Romney is performing much better as a candidate four years later. This time around there was neither a debate over the message -- it was Mr. Fix It from the start -- nor internal staff competition. He became, in short, a more adept politician.

Looking ahead to 2012, Romney concluded that he needed a different kind of campaign. He looked again to his close circle of advisers in Boston, who had learned from their mistakes and grown and changed in the intervening years ... In preparation for the second try, Stuart Stevens, who came with years of experience in presidential campaigns, moved to Boston and was empowered as chief strategist. The two bickering media teams of 2008 were reduced to one. After spending $2 million to win Iowa's straw poll in 2007, Romney would refuse to participate four years later. Instead of spending millions of dollars on early campaign ads, he would hoard his campaign cash. And rather than devoting countless hours to wooing evangelical leaders, he would say that the time for discussing his religion had come and gone. Read Article VI of the Constitution, he would say, quoting it: "No religious test."

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