The Alternative History of Mitt Romney's Campaign, by the Man Who Killed It

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Mitt Romney's campaign manager Stuart Stevens has offered up a counter-history of the 2012 presidential election, the kind you might imagine coming from lefties like Howard Zinn or Oliver Stone — if the purpose weren't to protect the reputation of a former private-equity executive. In defending Romney, Stevens is also defending himself, because he was frequently attacked by conservatives in the last few months of the campaign for being in over his head. Let's look at Stevens's interpretation of history, from The Washington Post today:

I appreciate that Mitt Romney was never a favorite of D.C.’s Green Room crowd or, frankly, of many politicians. That’s why, a year ago, so few of those people thought he would win the nomination... Nobody liked Romney except voters.

Many pundits expected Romney to win the nomination — it was the doubters who were outliers. Many of the candidates running against him had lackluster resumes, and his more serious challengers  dropped out early (Tim Pawlenty) or failed to catch on (Jon Huntsman). By late November 2011, Romney was almost a sure thing, because even though Herman Cain had been polling ahead of him, his most serious remaining challenger, Rick Perry, had blown up at the debates. And the idea that only voters loved Romney is contradicted by Stevens himself three sentences later!

[Romney] bested the competition in debates, and though he was behind almost every candidate in the primary at one time or the other, he won the nomination and came very close to winning the presidency.

Yes, that's right, voters were so enamored with Romney that he polled behind Herman Cain. Not to mention a former speaker of the House who'd been out of office 14 years, a former senator who was defeated six years earlier, and a Minnesota representative who once called for an investigation into the true sympathies of members of Congress.

[Romney] raised more money for the Republican Party than the Republican Party did.

As Obama did for the Democrats, Romney raised money for the Romney Victory Fund, which allows donors to give to the campaign, the national party committee, and the state parties in one check. That check maxes out at $75,800 per person. But only $5,000 can go directly to the campaign, and that's all the campaign had direct control over. Romney had a higher average donation and fewer total donors than Obama did.

When much of what passes for a political intelligentsia these days predicted that the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan meant certain death on the third rail of Medicare and Social Security, Mitt Romney brought the fight to the Democrats and made the rational, persuasive case for entitlement reform that conservatives have so desperately needed... And it’s safe to say that the entitlement discussion will never be the same.

Romney attacked Obama for cutting Medicare, not for spending too much on it. And polls showed those attacks worked. It didn't change the entitlement discussion -- it was a replay.

In the debates and in sweeping rallies across the country, Mitt Romney captured the imagination of millions of Americans.

At left is a word association chart from a poll by Pew Research Center. It shows the Obama campaign — and allied super PACs — were somewhat successful in shaping how voters imagined Romney.

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

But, obviously, not on Election Day.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.