WASHINGTON – Not long after Gabriel Schoenfeld formally joined Mitt Romney’s campaign, he writes in a new tell-all book, he was in a conference room brainstorming about the presidential candidate’s economic plan.
After initially talking about the substance of the plan, the book recounts, top adviser Stuart Stevens interjected to ask about whether it should be distributed in a bound book, compact discs, or through a USB memory stick.
“The strategists, as I was to learn over the ensuing months, were supremely indifferent to substance,” Schoenfeld writes in the book, which was provided to the Globe by the publisher. “It was this indifference that governed their peculiar personnel choices.”
“It was this same indifference that led them to invest huge amounts of time, money, and mental energy in the design and construction of the most elaborate convention stage in the history of the Western world while thinking only fleetingly, and only at the last minute, of what Romney would actually say when he arrived on that stage,” he added. “To the admen steering the campaign, the medium trumped the message every time.”
The book is a stinging account of what went on inside Romney’s campaign headquarters in Boston, and it is one that is generating significant anger among other former Romney staffers now eager to discredit Schoenfeld.
One former loyalist said that Schoenfeld was initially brought on by Stevens, potentially as a speechwriter. But his stock within the campaign fell so far that by the final weeks of the race he was working out of a cubicle on the first floor.
Another adviser said that Schoenfeld was not a “senior adviser,” as he claims, but a “writer in the policy shop.” Another adviser said in an email, “I think he just has stuff he wants to get off his chest. Sigh. Welcome to ebooks.”
In the book, Schoenfeld admits that his role changed, but he claims it was by his own choice – to get further away from policy director Lanhee Chen, the staffer who gets the most disdain in the book.
Schoenfeld writes that Chen insisted on being addressed as “doctor,” and put PhD on business cards and the nameplate on his office door as a way to draw attention to his four degrees from Harvard.
In a staff meeting, the book says, Chen also once self-deprecatingly said that he could not find Finland on a map.
Chen declined to comment on Schoenfeld’s book directly, but said, “It was a great honor to serve as Governor Romney’s policy director, and I will always be grateful to him for the extraordinary opportunity he gave me.”
“Like many large endeavors, our campaign was not perfect, but we did advance important ideas that impacted the national conversation across a range of issues,” Chen said in a statement. “I was proud to have been part of the Romney campaign and to serve alongside some truly outstanding professionals.”
The book – “A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign: An Insider’s Account” – is an e-book that will go on sale next week for $2.99. It mostly walks through the presidential campaign, providing some analysis but few details that would feel fresh to a close observer of the campaign. And although the book mentions Chen and Stevens multiple times, it never names many other top advisers, including Eric Fehrnstrom, Beth Myers, or Gail Gitcho.
His main argument was that the campaign flailed around on foreign policy, not making it enough of a priority – and, when it did, making too many blunders to make an effective argument.
He says the campaign didn’t adequately vet Richard Grenell, who was briefly brought on as a spokesman on foreign policy but who had a string of problematic tweets on his account. One of the tweets made fun of Callista Gingrich’s hair, and it was re-discovered around the time that Newt Gingrich was campaigning, with his wife, for Romney.
“The Romneys – Mr. and Mrs. – were not at all pleased,” Schoenfeld writes.
Grenell eventually resigned and, on the day he left Schoenfeld writes, Stevens asked aloud, “What do we need a foreign policy spokesman for?” (Schoenfeld later tried to fill Grenell’s role, but was rebuffed).
The campaign also erred on Romney’s foreign trip, Schoenfeld argues, where the candidate lacked a strong staff with backgrounds in international affairs. Schoenfeld wrote that several foreign policy advisers – including Mitchell Reiss, who has significant experience abroad – were discouraged from going on the trip.
“Romney was thus for all intents and purposes left by the campaign to fend for himself,” he writes.
Romney went on to make several gaffes that overshadowed his trip.
Without strong foreign policy advisers, Schoenfeld writes, he made several missteps that could have been avoided. He was quick to criticize the Obama administration for its handling of Chinese human rights advocate Chen Guangcheng, for example, even though the administration was widely praised after the incident was over.
The same occurred with Romney’s quickness to criticize President Obama’s handling of the attacks on the US consulate in Benghazi.
“A central lesson from this chain of folly, almost too obvious to state, is that foreign policy matters,” Schoenfeld writes. “It was a strategic mistake—political malpractice—on the part of Romney and his lieutenants to try to downplay its significance, and action they took early on the basis of an almost mechanical interpretation of poll data and the belief that President Obama possessed too many advantages in that area.”Matt Viser can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mviser.