Noam Scheiber offers an inside look at the Romney campaign’s chief strategist.
BEFORE HE EARNED his reputation as one of the best ad men in politics, before he wrote for several major television shows, and long before he became Mitt Romney’s top campaign strategist, Stuart Stevens found himself in Cameroon, face to face with a machine-gun-wielding soldier looking to shake him down. It was 1988, and a few weeks earlier, Stevens had deposited himself in the nearby Central African Republic to pick up a friend’s Land Rover and drive it back to France. But the trip was a disaster from the get-go. Local officials confiscated the car and refused to release it. Weeks passed before he could find a roadworthy replacement. By the time Stevens finally got moving, he discovered that his maps were unreliable, the roads nearly impassable, and the local bureaucrats inhospitable. Distances drivable within a few hours in the United States gobbled up days.
And then Stevens arrived at a military roadblock in Yaoundé, the Cameroonian capital. “When [the soldier] jerked the bag from my hands and spat, ‘Open!,’ tottering back on his heels, I realized he was drunk,” Stevens wrote in his book Malaria Dreams. Stevens surveyed the soldier’s comrades; they were all drunk. Soon the two men were locked in a tense back-and-forth, with the soldier lifting each possession from his briefcase, and Stevens shaking his head no. Eventually, the soldier settled on a tape recorder. “You give to me!” he shouted, snatching the device. Stevens stopped his hand. “Twelve hours ago I would have parted with a small item, say the three-dollar penlight,” he explained, “but now I was steeled to see it through.” They stared at each other; the other soldiers stiffened. Finally, Stevens’s African driver had the sense to slip the looter a bribe, and the showdown ended. The soldiers waved the car through.
Noam Scheiber — “The Square and the Flair”