Forward: Beth Myers on the Current State of the GOP

Beth Myers has often been described as Mitt Romney’s most trusted adviser, serving as Chief of Staff during Romney’s Massachusetts governorship and Campaign Manager for Romney’s 2008 presidential race. Myers graduated from Tufts University and received a Juris Doctorate from Southern Methodist University School of Law. Co-founder of political consulting firm The Shawmut Group, Myers has worked on prominent Republican campaigns ranging from the 1980 Reagan campaign to the more recent 2010 campaign for former Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts.  Myers was tapped to lead the search for Romney’s running mate in the 2012 campaign. Most recently, Myers was tapped to lead the search for Romney’s running mate in the 2012 campaign and served as an inaugural Fellow at UChicago’s Institute of Politics

What is the biggest issue going forward for the country? Are we, as a nation, talking about the most important issues?

That’s an interesting question. The race was about the economy; Governor Romney spoke on debt reduction and deficit reduction and making sure America remained the strongest economic power in the world. Those were the issues that he brought to the floor. The President brought a different set of issues to the forefront. He was less concerned about the deficit and debt and put more emphasis on economic equality and social justice issues. And that’s something that the voters spoke on. While I would probably put more emphasis on the debt and deficit as the crucial issue of our time, the issues that the President is addressing are of great importance to many Americans.

Looking back on the campaign, what would you have done differently?

Well, hindsight is 20/20. Mitt knew the issues that were important to him, and his rationale for running was clearly articulated. So, on the issues that he campaigned on, I think we’d stay right where we were.

And you can look back and see that there are certain things that we would have liked to have done differently but couldn’t. We couldn’t have spent any more money in the spring because we didn’t have it. We couldn’t have made our primary shorter – I really wish it had been shorter. Same thing with advertising in the spring in certain rural parts of Iowa, Ohio, and Virginia – We weren’t able to afford to get to those markets.

The one thing that I recognized that was happening that I wish we had addressed was in the spring when the Obama campaign launched a fairly consistent and low boil campaign to women voters that was very negative for Mitt. Contraception in particular – that Mitt was opposed to contraception simply wasn’t true. And we let it go without pushing back hard a little bit too long. I kick myself for not screaming and shouting that we needed to address this sooner.

One message that was often repeated was that Republicans are not the party for women. What do you think people should understand about this that might not have been clear in the campaign?

I think it’s simply not true that the Republican Party is not the party for women. The issues that Republicans focus on –- the importance of reducing debt and deficit, job security, Medicare reform, energy independence, a strong America –- these are issues every woman cares about.

On a personal note, as a working mom, working for Mitt Romney was incredible. I needed flexibility to be able to work full time when my kids were in school, and he gave that to me. It wasn’t that I worked less than anybody, I just needed the flexibility to be able to, at times, deal with my kids, and he recognized how important that was for working women. At the same time, he still expected and demanded a high level of performance. He expected the same from me as anyone else on the team, but was not rigid on how I delivered that.

I do think that on most campaigns, in business, politics, government, in almost every career and profession, it is hard for women at the top. I was too many times the only woman in a room, making decisions with a group of men. But we had a great team of women on our campaign and we never felt shy about making our voices heard. I always felt we brought a unique perspective, and therefore it was imperative to speak up. In any of these high level endeavors, you have to be willing to tango and put yourself out there with the best of them. In this campaign women had that opportunity.

When Mitt was in the governor’s office, we had the binders full of women, which Mitt famously made reference to in a debate. They were binders full of women’s resumes and they were a valuable tool for our administration. They were put together by a group of professional women who collected resumes and organized them by areas of interest or skill. So, whenever we had an opening in any of our agencies, cabinets, or departments, we had this great resource that we used all the time and which yielded some of our best hires. And I know that is what popped into Mitt’s head during the debate because those binders were there all four years and we went back to them often. It was very proactive and very productive. And somehow that got turned into a bad thing, which I still can’t believe.

One major headline following the election was the role that technology played in the campaigns this year. Many articles cited different avenues: targeted message testing online, statistical analysis of voting demographics, and enhanced social media strategies. How is the role of technology changing the game of running a successful political campaign? Was it a fair characterization by the press that the Obama campaign harnessed that better in this election?

The power of incumbency is a hard thing to overemphasize. The Obama campaign had four to five years to build up an infrastructure with sophisticated analytics. They had an organizational structure where they could look at all sorts of stuff. While we were fighting primary battles, they were analyzing the electorate and creating general election campaign plans. And that’s a huge advantage.

The Romney campaign also used a lot of data and research to form our campaign planning. But the Obama campaign did more of that, and they emphasized data collection and analysis as a more important part of their campaign. We used a lot of information to buy our media, place our web ads, and schedule the governor. So we did the same thing, but perhaps not to the same extent since we didn’t have the time to build that infrastructure platform.

Going forward though, one of the things the Republican Party is looking at nationally is building up these data infrastructures in the off years, so that whoever is the nominee in 2016 will have that ready. We did not have that advantage in 2012. It’s important. The availability of so much voter data has certainly changed the game. It drives everything. It used to be polling, and now it’s a lot more. It’s taking everything to a new level.

I do think that some of the voter turnout models we used were probably off. Our pollsters were vital to our strategy team, and we wouldn’t have won the primary without them. They gave us such good guidance. But the Obama campaign did something remarkable in that they changed the turnout with their field operation. That is a tough thing to do – Hats off to them. And as a result, the models the Republicans used were not quite accurate. Our polling was not as predictive. It was directionally predictive, but the outcomes were not as we had hoped.

Given all of these changes, what do you see as the future for the Republican Party?

Look, the Republican Party now has the House of Representatives. We have 30 state houses. We have a lot of state legislatures. It is a growing party. We did better in 2012 than we did in 2008. It’s very hard to unseat a popular incumbent. I don’t take the fact that we lost the presidency as an indictment against the Republican Party in general.

Having vetted the Vice Presidential candidates and taken a really, really hard look at the bench, I will tell you that it is a really solid group of leaders that are coming up through the ranks. It is just incredible. We will have a great team to run in 2016. There will likely be a generational jump. Just like the Democrats moved from 1988 to 1992 to the younger candidate Bill Clinton; I think you will also see that in the Republican Party in 2016.

Younger libertarians, garden-variety conservatives, fiscal conservatives: It’s a very strong team. You’ve got Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Rob Portman, Susannah Martinez, Governor McDonell, Nikki Haley, Scott Walker. There is a long list of rock stars out there. So I feel very enthusiastic about the Republican Party. We have the right ideas, and when you have the right ideas, the people follow.

Feature Photo: cc/gageskidmore

meemking@gmail.com'
Maggie King
Maggie King is a senior editor for The Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. She is interested in energy and environmental policy and economic and trade policy.

One Response to “Forward: Beth Myers on the Current State of the GOP

  • fmanzo@uchicago.edu'
    Frank Manzo IV
    ago5 years

    It’s good to be cautiously optimistic and play up the successes and virtues of one’s party, but Ms. Myers sounds slightly disillusioned. There are major problems with the Republican Party going forward: a perception problem, candidates unrepresentative of the rest of America, a campaigning and technology problem, but in particular a policy problem and a general demographics problem.

    I actually find that last sentence quite laughable. Opposing civil rights to same-sex couples is not the right idea. The people aren’t following. A harsh stance on immigration against people who simply yearn for the same economic opportunity as the rest of us is not the right idea. The people aren’t following. It’s not true that the GOP is not the party of women? Wrong, and women aren’t following. Myopic cuts to programs which invest in our future and grow our economy in the long-run is not the right idea. The people aren’t following. Poll after poll shows that the people have a more unfavorable view of the GOP than of the Democrats or President Obama, and more often place blame on the former over the latter for either creating problems or preventing solutions to problems.

    Both the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Public Religion Research Institute in 2012 found that the religiously unaffiliated are the fastest growing religious group in America. The Baby Boomers are graying. The country is becoming “less white.” Combine all of this, and the GOP base has a coalition problem.

    New GOP “rock stars” aren’t going to make a difference. New GOP policies will.