May 18, 2013
'Those who say the presidential race is over are completely wrong'
By Adrián Bono
In an exclusive interview with the BuenosAiresHerald.com, former John Mc Cain presidential campaign manager and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt says that despite a recent series of faux pas in the Romney camp, the presidential race is far from over.
It has been a disastrous couple of weeks for the Romney campaign. Following his bland performance at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, the poor timing of his statements on the US embassy attacks in Cairo and a recently released video in which he is seen belittling almost half of the US electorate, many analysts believe he may have fatally wounded his presidential aspirations.
But Schmidt, who led Arnold Schwarzenegger’s reelection campaign in California and created the Mc Cain – Palin ticket in 2008, warns that the media shouldn’t be so fast to declare Barack Obama reelected yet.
Played by Woody Harrelson in this year’s Emmy award-winning political movie “Game Change,” Schmidt had an exclusive conversation with the BuenosAiresHerald.com and predicted a tight race until Election Day in November.
After two weeks of a presidential campaign filled with blunders, do you agree with those who say Mitt Romney has already lost the election?
You can’t say that he has lost. Structurally speaking, this is a very close election. The Romney campaign had a bad Republican convention while the Democrats had a great convention. Thanks to Clint Eastwood's chair stand up act, Romney's statements after the attacks on the US embassy in Egypt and Libya and the "47 percent" video, president Obama has opened up a lead. Mitt has had a horrible state of news, most of them self inflicted, but the poll numbers suggest a tightening of the race on a national level. When you look at it state by state, he's behind but at striking distance. And he still has more than forty days ahead of the elections and enough time to regain his equilibrium and present his argument to the American people.
The presidential debates are coming next month. Do you think he can use them to bounce back?
Of course he can. The president is in a precarious position just like Bush was in the ’04 campaign. Some say that if the election was tomorrow, Obama would win. But it’s a close election and Mitt Romney will have an opportunity to make his case before the largest television audience of the year after the Super Bowl.
The Wall Street Journal said last week that the Romney campaign is “incompetent”. How would you run things if you were in charge?
Romney needs to regain his stability in the race in order to get through the day without making mistakes and show signs than he might be able to make an argument and a breakthrough. He should start making a case to set up the debates. His campaign needs to prepare for them and hope that by the time they are over he was able to convey how he plans to move the country forward, how to deal with the economy, realities and challenges of the country. Those who say this race is over are completely wrong.
You were instrumental in the selection of Sarah Palin as a vice-presidential candidate in 2008. What do you think about Romney’s decision to pick Paul Ryan, another hard-line conservative?
The reality of both vice-presidential picks is that in an election – and even though there are exceptions to this – the choice doesn’t prop a ballot as much as the guy on top does. Paul Ryan is a smart, capable Republican leader and he has a belief and an approach to government that many, many millions of people in this country rally to. He’s going to be a leader in the Republican Party for a long time, no matter what the outcome of these elections is. He’s doing a fine job on the campaign trail and soon we will get to see him perform in the debates against Joe Biden. It’s going to be his great moment.
And he seems to have given Romney a boost with Republican voters who were unsure of him before…
Conservatives like him. It’s the one thing that’s indisputably correct about the Paul Ryan pick.
Do you agree with those who say the Republican Party is heading in the wrong direction?
If you look at the demographics and the population in this country, you can’t make them all work. The GOP should be a national party. It’s what helps the advance of conservatism; a philosophy that I believe is the correct one to governing this country. You want a broad-based majority party that accommodates different views on some things but agrees on a couple of other fundamental things.
But the party seems to be so fragmented right now…
I think the party is healthy in a lot of places and unhealthy in some others. We spend too much time as Republicans being lectured to by some in the party about who’s allowed to be in it and what conditions you have to have to be in it, about what conservatism is and how you demonstrate you’re a conservative.
Do you think Mitt Romney will manage to make everyone rally behind him again?
This is a closely divided country. But the question now is whether he can obtain the 270 electoral votes needed to win the election. He’s behind in the race and behind in crucial states and he has to turn that around. That’s what we will be watching closely in the next couple of weeks.
Despite apparently leading in some key states, this time the Democratic base is not as fired-up as it was back in 2008. Do you think there’s a certain level of disillusionment with the Obama administration?
You read stories about who’s got more energy in this race on both sides. Broadly speaking, over sixty percent of the population thinks that this country is on the wrong track and people are in a bad mood. They are pessimistic and angry because (politicians) don’t seem to talk about solutions that take the country out of the ditch that it seems headed towards. But I don’t think this is going to translate to a lack of performance on the ballots. I think both sides are going to come out and vote.
After the Democratic National Convention, you praised the Democrats and said they had done a great job in building a case for Obama’s reelection. Come November, who will you vote for?
I like president Obama. I respect him on a personal level. He’s had some successes, such as the execution of our anti-terrorist policies in Afghanistan and against al-Qaeda. But I’m a Republican and in the end I want to see the conservative movement do well.