Stuart Stevens On Taking The Field, From Football To The Presidency

“Stuart Stevens On Taking The Field, From Football To The Presidency”, published in Roads and Kingdoms on September 16, 2015

In 2012, Stuart Stevens helped Mitt Romney secure a prize many people covet but few ever win—a major party presidential nomination. Running for president, with its hectic schedule and close scrutiny, is a thankless pursuit Stevens says is “the least enjoyable experience that anyone voluntarily enters into available to an adult.” It’s even more so because he lost.

Stevens really likes to win. He did win in 2000 and 2004 as a consultant with the Bush campaigns and in state and local races across the country during his decades-long career.

After the Romney campaign, Stevens took a break to spend time with his father, resurrecting childhood memories of watching Ole Miss football games. He chronicles the experience in his latest book, “The Last Season,” released September 15. This is his sixth book. His previous books include three travel memoirs; “Scorched Earth,” a fictional novel about a Mississippi election; and “The Big Enchilada,” a memoir about the 2000 Bush campaign.

Here’s some lightly edited excerpts of a recent conversation with Stevens.

One of the big issues in the South and the country this past summer was the debate over the Confederate flag. You mentioned in the book how the Ole Miss Rebels used to use Confederate imagery. They waved Confederate flags, and they had Colonel Reb as their mascot. How did growing up as an Ole Miss fan influence your views on the Confederate flag debate?

I’m not sure how old I was when I realized the Confederate flag represented something other than Ole Miss. It’s just something you saw at football games. I’m not sure when I was a kid—five, six, ten, twelve years old—going to games, that it represented the flag of the Confederacy. [To me] it was the Ole Miss flag. When you look back on it, looking at the ’62 riots, for example, they were probably instigated by this football game, Ole Miss versus Kentucky, that took place in Jackson, Mississippi, on the Saturday before the riots. [Stevens’ recollection of that game is included in his book.]

In those days, the Ole Miss band dressed in Confederate battle gray. They unfurled what they billed as the “largest Confederate flag in the world,” and [that day] Gov. Ross Barnett came out and gave…a speech at halftime on the middle of the field that was really a call to rebellion.

Seven or eight years ago, under the leadership of Chancellor Robert Khayat, the university began to phase out Confederate flags and phased out the mascot Colonel Reb [replacing it with Rebel the Black Bear]. I think it was a very positive development.

Today with the state flag, there’s a Confederate flag as its centerpiece, and I think if there was a referendum today, the vote would be to change it. There was a referendum 12 years ago, and the vote was overwhelmingly to keep it the same, but I think the climate has really changed. … Clearly it’s a hateful imagery to many Mississippians, and it should be changed.

Growing up in the South, living in New York early in your career, and traveling abroad a lot, how did your identity as a Southerner and as an American develop?

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