When George W. Bush ran for president in 2000, there was never any question about who his political maestro was: Karl Rove, the man later dubbed “Bush’s brain.”
Mitt Romney, well into his second, more successful presidential run, still has no Rove-like figure – an all-seeing adviser engineering the entire, increasingly sprawling, political apparatus. But aides and insiders say there is someone very much in charge – and that would be, for better or worse, Mitt Romney.
Romneyworld consists of a set of interlocking circles, created during his time in business and in government, tied together by a campaign manager with a clear mandate over the operation, but with the candidate himself at the center. According to the basic presidential political playbook, that’s risky; staffers always say their boss is in charge but also always worry about a candidate who’s too immersed in the nitty-gritty details. Nomination narratives are full of cautionary tales about candidates who couldn’t see the proverbial strategic forest because they obsessed over every decision, creating a leadership vacuum.
But the CEO-structure of Romney’s campaign reflects a central belief set by campaign manager Matt Rhoades and adhered to by others that staff should not be the focus of attention – and it also reflects the management style that has made Romney successful in the past.
“(Romney) likes a pretty horizontal organization where there’s a number of different inputs into him,” said former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent, a Romney ally and surrogate. “He fields information so quickly and he has such a strong frame of reference that he knows what questions he wants to ask.”
“You have a group of people there that are mature, collaborative, (there’s) very little personality conflict and turf-fighting and the like.” said former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who has become a key Romney surrogate. He credited Romney, saying the way the campaign functions reflects the personal approach of the former Massachusetts governor.
“I think it’s remarkable because the campaign is really high-functioning, and part of the reason it’s so high-functioning is because Mitt has assembled a group of seasoned (operatives),” he added, saying they have experience “coming to a team conclusion and executing it as a team.”
“Gov. Romney has put together a very strong campaign organization that shows he is ready to take on the Chicago-style politics of the Obama campaign,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.
One advantage Romney has enjoyed is continuity. The core of his 2008 staff remains largely the same. And the various groups now linked together under Romney 2012 Inc. have, at different points in Romney’s life, worked together, eliminating some of the element of tensions that crop up with new additions when primary candidates become their party’s nominee.
There are, for instance, the Boston power center comprised of Beth Myers, Eric Fehrnstrom and Peter Flaherty, the business power center represented by longtime adviser and friend Bob White, a fundraising power center featuring “sixth son” Spencer Zwick, and the personal power center of longtime friends and family of Romney.
Messaging is something of a collaborative effort among a senior group of advisers, but is identified heavily with Rhoades and ad-maker Stuart Stevens, who also does most of the speech-writing.