Stephen Edward Schmidt
September 28, 1970
|Education||University of Delaware (BA)|
|Political party||Republican (1988–2018)|
Stephen Edward Schmidt (born September 28, 1970) is an American communications and public affairs strategist who has worked on Republican political campaigns, including those of President George W. Bush, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Arizona Senator John McCain.
Schmidt was the senior campaign strategist and advisor to McCain's 2008 presidential campaign. He pushed McCain to select Sarah Palin as his running mate, a choice which both Schmidt and McCain came to regret. He was a Vice Chair at the public relations firm Edelman until he stepped down in July 2018.
Schmidt has been extremely critical of former President Donald Trump, and of the GOP for supporting him. In June 2018, Schmidt renounced the Republican Party as "fully the party of Trump". In early December 2020, he stated: "The Republican Party is an organized conspiracy for the purposes of maintaining power for self-interest, and the self-interest of its donor class ... It’s no longer dedicated to American democracy."
Early life and education
The son of a schoolteacher and a telecommunications executive, Schmidt grew up in North Plainfield, New Jersey, where he became an Eagle Scout, a tight end on the high school football team, a two-year member of the National Honor Society, and senior class vice president. In 1988, he was one of two graduating seniors voted "most likely to succeed" by his classmates at North Plainfield High School. As a young boy, he distributed campaign materials for Democrat Bill Bradley's 1978 United States Senate election in New Jersey.
Schmidt attended the University of Delaware from 1988 through the spring of 1993, majoring in political science. During this time, he registered as a Republican. He left three credits short of graduating because he did not pass a math course; Schmidt has said that he has been diagnosed with a learning disability that makes higher math difficult for him. He joined the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, was a member of the campus Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program, and did field work for Republican candidates in Delaware, sometimes wearing campaign buttons to class. Schmidt completed his final math course and graduated in 2013.
In 1995, Schmidt managed the unsuccessful campaign for Kentucky Attorney General of Will T. Scott, who is formerly a Justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court. This Kentucky campaign's advertising strategy was featured in the second edition of George Magazine.
In 1998, Schmidt ran California State Senator Tim Leslie's unsuccessful race for Lt. Governor of California. Also that year, he was the Communications Director for California State Treasurer Matt Fong's unsuccessful campaign to unseat U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. In 1999, he was the Communications Director for Lamar Alexander's presidential run, leaving in June when the campaign reduced its senior staff.
Schmidt joined the Bush administration as a Deputy Assistant to the President and Counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney. In 2004, he was a member of the senior strategic planning group, led by White House adviser Karl Rove, that ran President George W. Bush's re-election campaign; Schmidt oversaw the reelection "war room". In 2005 and 2006, he was the White House strategist responsible for the U.S. Supreme Court nominations of Samuel Alito and Chief Justice John Roberts.
In 2006, Schmidt left the White House to become the campaign manager in the re-election campaign for California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. From there, he became a partner in Mercury Public Affairs, part of Fleishman-Hillard International Communications, in charge of Mercury's operations in California.
2008 McCain presidential campaign
On July 2, 2008, Schmidt was appointed to head up day-to-day operations of the McCain campaign in response to concerns that the campaign lacked coordination and a clear message. Rick Davis retained the formal title of "campaign manager".
The New York Times described Schmidt's management as having transformed the McCain campaign into "an elbows-out, risk-taking, disciplined machine", crediting him with aggressive responses to press criticism and creative methods of manipulating the news cycle.
Time's Michael Scherer, in an opinion piece from September 15, 2008, relating to Schmidt's involvement with John McCain's presidential campaign, stated that Schmidt, the "lord of outrage, has a long and prosperous career ahead of him".
On September 22, 2008, Schmidt accused the New York Times of bias against McCain in favor of his opponent, Barack Obama, calling Times "a pro-Obama advocacy organization that every day impugns the McCain campaign, attacks Senator McCain, attacks Governor (Sarah Palin)" and saying "Whatever The New York Times once was, it is today not by any standard a journalistic organization."
Stance on gay rights
Schmidt voiced his support for gay rights at a meeting of the Log Cabin Republicans, a gay Republican group. He said: "I just wanted to take a second to come by and pay my respect and the campaign's respect to your organization and to your group. Your organization is an important one in the fabric of our party."
Schmidt said about his lesbian sister and her life partner: "On a personal level, my sister and her partner are an important part of my life and our children's life. I admire your group and your organization and I encourage you to keep fighting for what you believe in because the day is going to come."
In February 2013, Schmidt, along with 74 other Republicans, co-signed an amicus brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in support of overturning Proposition 8. "The die is cast on this issue when you look at the percentage of younger voters who support gay marriage", he was quoted as saying. "As Dick Cheney said years ago, 'Freedom means freedom for everybody.'"
While leading the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, the McCain campaign states that "gay adoption is a state issue and does not endorse any federal legislation."
Departure from the Republican Party and joining the Democratic Party
In May 2018, when President Donald Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, sparking violent Gaza border protests, Schmidt said Trump "has blood on his hands". The Embassy's opening coincided with the bloodiest day of the 2018 Gaza border protests, with more than 57 Palestinians killed. Despite initial violence after the decision, the United States under President Joe Biden has decided to keep the embassy in Jerusalem.
On June 19, 2018, Schmidt formally withdrew from the GOP over Trump's policy of separating immigrant families at the U.S. border with Mexico. He also cited Republican leadership for their failure to challenge the policy. Schmidt said of Trump, "We have in America—right now, at this hour—to understand that you have a lawless president, a vile president, a corrupt president, a mean, cruel president, who is seeking to remake the world order."
In June 2018, he tweeted "the Republican Party ... is fully the party of Trump. It is corrupt, indecent and immoral. With the exception of a few Governors like Baker, Hogan and Kasich it is filled with feckless cowards who disgrace and dishonor the legacies of the party's greatest leaders ... Today the GOP has become a danger to our democracy and our values." During an August 2018 television appearance, he characterized Trumpism:
We’re seeing somebody go to mass rallies, constantly lie to incite fervor in a cult of personality base, we are seeing him make victimization honorable – they’re all victims, right? We are seeing the allegation of conspiracy, the 'Deep State,' hidden, nefarious movements that only the leader can see. We see the scapegoating of minority populations, vulnerable populations, and lastly, the assertion that ‘I need to exercise these powers that no president has ever claimed to have.' This is deliberate. This is an assault on objective truth. And once you get people to surrender their sovereignty, what is true is what the leader says is true, what is true is what the leader believes is true, even though what’s true is staring you in the face. When that happens, you are no longer living in a democratic republic. Thirty-five percent of this country has checked out. They have joined a cult. They are obedient. They are obedient to the leader.
Describing his new political orientation, he stated:
This Independent voter will be aligned with the only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent and remains fidelitous to our Republic, objective truth, the rule of law and our Allies. That party is the Democratic Party.
On December 14, 2020, Schmidt announced he was joining the Democratic Party on his podcast, Battleground.
Howard Schultz's possible 2020 run
On January 28, 2019, it was reported that Schmidt, along with Democratic consultant Bill Burton, had been hired to help shape a potential presidential run by former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz. After Schultz decided to withdraw from the race, Schmidt returned to MSNBC.
Other professional activities
Words Matter Media
In August 2018 Schmidt launched a podcast with Elise Jordan focused on the Trump presidency. Schmidt parted ways with the podcast when he walked out in the middle of an episode in which Jordan and executive producer Adam Levine questioned Schmidt about his role as adviser to potential 2020 presidential candidate Howard Schultz.
The Lincoln Project
Schmidt is a founding member of The Lincoln Project, a Super PAC organized by former Republican operatives opposed to the re-election of Donald Trump in 2020, and supported the Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden. Schmidt and members of The Lincoln Project guest starred on Showtime's The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth in 2020, giving viewers an insight to their strategies.
In January 2020, a person working for the digital advertising company Tusk raised concerns about John Weaver's pattern of sexual harassment to Lincoln Project executive Ron Steslow, who in turn notified other Lincoln Project officials. By June 2020, members of The Lincoln Project's leadership were informed in writing and in subsequent phone calls of at least 10 specific allegations of harassment against John Weaver, which includes two employees of The Lincoln Project. Schmidt released a statement on January 31, 2021, "No Lincoln Project employee, intern, or contractors ever made an allegation of inappropriate communication about John Weaver that would have triggered an investigation by HR or by an outside employment counsel. In other words, no human being ever made an allegation about any inappropriate sexualized communications about John Weaver ever."
In February 2021, Schmidt stepped down from his position on The Lincoln Project board and released a statement in which he disclosed he was sexually molested as a teen and apologized to another co-founder, Jennifer Horn, for tweeting her private correspondence with a reporter. He also stated he was stepping down from the board in order to make room for the appointment of a female board member as the first step to reform and professionalize The Lincoln Project.
In popular culture
- Schmidt is portrayed by Woody Harrelson in the HBO film Game Change. The film, based on chapters of the book of the same title by political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, focuses on the choice of Sarah Palin as John McCain's running mate in the 2008 United States presidential election. Schmidt is shown as pushing for the choice of Palin, then afterward conceding she was unqualified for the job, including that she had a limited knowledge of current affairs. Schmidt himself voiced his approval of the film, saying that "it tells the truth of the campaign" and that watching the film was tantamount to "an out-of-body experience".
Schmidt has three children.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Steve Schmidt.|
- Romano, Lois (August 21, 2008) "The Silver Bullet: Steve Schmidt Makes Sure His Candidate Knows Exactly What He Is Shooting For". Washington Post
- Steve Schmidt: Renowned Political Strategist and MSNBC Political Analyst. Speaker Bio at Leading Authorities. Retrieved March 30, 2018.
- Nagourney, Adam (July 3, 2008). "McCain Orders Shake-Up of His Campaign". The New York Times.
- Appearances on C-SPAN