Scullyworld: The Romney back-biting moment

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 17 2012 9:39 AM

Scullyworld: The Romney back-biting moment

My friend and former colleague Tim Noah was the first, I think, to notice that you can't cross Republican speechwriter Matthew Scully. In 1993, after the George H.W. Bush administration ended, Scully revealed that the president "trusted the wrong people." In 2007, as the second Bush ediface collapsed, Scully wrote an Atlantic tell-all about the administration's fumbles. Scully dropped so many dimes on Michael Gerson that the floppy-haired speechwriter could have bought a java chip Frappucino. "At the precise moment when the State of the Union address was being drafted at the White House by John and me," wrote Scully, "Mike was off pretending to craft the State of the Union address in longhand for the benefit of a reporter."

In Scullyworld, every Republican has the makings of greatness until he's undone by bad staffers who -- in his one, telling character flaw -- he's unwilling to sack. Enter Mitt Romney. According to Politico's new blockbuster, Romney's convention was a failure, in part, because scrambling chief strategist Stuart Stevens junked a speech that Peter Wehner had already written. "Stevens frantically contacted John McConnell and Matthew Scully, a speechwriting duo that had worked in George W. Bush’s campaign and White House," write Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei. Alas:

Only one paragraph from the McConnell-Scully draft wound up being used, about a rose that Romney’s father had put on his mother’s bedside table each day. The speech that was actually delivered, it turned out, had been cobbled together by Stevens and Romney himself.
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So the indeliable, personal anecdote from Romney's speech was co-crafted by Scully. The rest of that crap? Well, "Stevens has taken the brunt of the blame" for that, and for all the other stumbles.

Noah's previous Scully-gagging had concerned articles written by the man himself. This article is actually sourced to "Romney aides, advisers and friends," including "a longtime Romney friend," "a Romney official," "a Republican operative who works closely with the campaign," and -- my favorite -- "a person who recently was alone with Romney." But the essential Scullyness breaks through. Romney has the makings of greatness, but he's undone by bad staffers who -- in his one, telling character flaw -- he's unwilling to sack.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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