Washington men experience a second puberty when they work for a presidential campaign. No longer are they the sickly nerds with shriveled T-Rex arms. They blossom into icons of masculinity, Ernest Hemingways on the campaign bus. No matter that their job involves the girliest task of all time -- using words to describe relationships -- these guys sometimes say bad words to reporters off the record. The Atlantic Wire offered a field guide to the manliest presidential aides earlier this year, but it's time for an update. The New Republic's Noam Schieber introduces us to Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney's top strategist, who is so manly that one time he ate at almost 30 fancy European restaurants and then wrote a book about it.
"If the reigning fashion is to view elections as life-or-death struggles," Scheiber writes, "Stevens, who doesn’t even regard matters of life and death as life-or-death struggles, sees them as an exhilarating form of sport." And he combines the two. A former coworker says he called in to a conference call "while hiking with some Arctic explorer." He was inspired by British travel writers like Evelyn Waugh and Peter Fleming, who got into messes in exotic locales and survived. "Stevens approaches politics the same way: as an all-consuming, quasi-physical challenge that he can play for laughs when the election’s over."
Stevens isn't the only manly man on the Romney campaign, however. He's got some competition from Eric Fehrnstrom, who got his start as a "brawler" reporter for the Boston Herald, and now gets in Twitter fights with David Axelrod, President Obama's strategist. One time Fehrnstrom even shoved another adult male. Then there's press secretary Rick Gorka, who reportedly can "take a punch as well as he can throw one" and sometimes cusses. Let's see how Stevens holds up in our manliness rankings.
Man: Stuart Stevens
Candidate: Mitt Romney, 2012
Physical Manliness: In the 1980s, Stevens did a lot of ski marathons. In 1997, he ate at every single one of the 29 European restaurants that claimed three Michelin stars. The resulting book, Feeding Frenzy, is described by the publisher like this: "What follows is nothing less than gustatory madness, a wacky dash in a cherry-red 1965 Mustang across England, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and France through Europe's greatest food temples. Filled with hilarious misadventures, priceless exchanges with star chefs, wild excess, breathtaking scenery, and sensual depictions of once-in-a-lifetime meals, Feeding Frenzy will delight travelers and epicures alike."
Style Manliness: Stevens is aware of the existence of sex. He once told The Baltimore Sun, "In most cities, it’s mandatory to be sexy." But in Washington it's "considered a breach of conduct to be sexy. Just go down to 19th and K... the women are all walking around in Reeboks." The photo accompanying TNR's profile is black and white, and shows a squint into the sun, tousled hair, and an open-neck shirt. "Stevens likes his politicians simple and unadorned, in keeping with his aesthetic style," TNR says.
Fighting with Words: In the 2008 Republican presidential primary, Stevens was working for John McCain, and advised his candidate "you have to keep your foot on his throat." The throat in question was Romney's. In his book about the 2000 election, Stevens said, "I was confident we could come up with a spin. You could spin anything if you did it with enough confidence."
That One Actual Fight He Almost Got In: In 1988, Stevens tried to drive a Land Rover from the Central African Republic to France. In Cameroon, he was stopped at a military roadblock by a drunk soldier armed with what must have been an AK. The soldier wanted a bribe (a tape recorder), and Stevens refused. "They stared at each other; the other soldiers stiffened," then Stevens's friend offered a bribe. You can read this two ways: as a brave defense of the Western principles of private property ownership, or as massive idiocy.
Manliness Rating: 3.5. Points off for the unmanly act of "caring what your food tastes like." Bonus points for having participated in sports.
If you missed our earlier manly rankings, that 3.5 edges Stevens past his fellow Romney campaign manly man Eric Fehrnstrom, as well as Obama's former knife-fight-talker Rahm Emanuel and ties McCain strategist Steve Schmidt. But he's still well behind manly man masters Ed Rollins and Mark Salter. Click over here to find out why.