Rhoades, 36, now comes through loud and clear whenever Mitt Romney speaks about jobs, the economy and Barack Obama’s mismanagement of the presidency. Which is to say most every time Romney opens his mouth.
In a Republican primary packed with highly flammable candidates who have taken turns at self-immolation, Rhoades is the organizing force behind Romney’s safe and smooth campaign. An expert at manipulating the news cycle with a coveted connection to the elusive media power broker Matt Drudge, Rhoades is particularly well suited to run a campaign that Romney himself characterized this weekend as employing a “confidentiality of strategy.”
“When you see the intense focus and discipline of the Romney campaign,” Griffin said, “you are seeing in large part Matt Rhoades.”
And that is about all you will see of him. Rhoades, who almost never travels with the candidate, came of political age in the dark recesses of the opposition research universe and, either by career coincidence or design, has rarely appeared in the media. One exception: A 20-something blowup when he shattered a computer screen with his fist.
Years operating off the radar have given Rhoades a reputation as one of the Republican Party’s most shadowy tacticians.
“People always ask, ‘So what does Matt Rhoades look like?’ ” said Kevin Madden, a friend and former Romney spokesman. “I always say, ‘When he wants to meet you, he will call you.’ He is Keyser Soze.”
For Rhoades, this mystique is politically useful, and he's not about to dispel it.
“Now that he has a job that he could get famous in,” said Steve Schmidt, his old partner in the Bush-Cheney war room, “it’s the furthest thing from his mind.”
On a recent afternoon, the Romney campaign refused to let a reporter into its three-story headquarters in Boston’s North End. Rhoades was also off-limits. Senior Romney advisers agreed to talk — albeit bloodlessly — about Rhoades in an empty Italian restaurant across the street.
Rhoades is a good manager, a loyal worker and a smart guy, they said. He speaks daily with Romney, gives instructions on how to best manage the stripped-down budget and exudes quiet self-confidence.
The advisers refused to talk about Rhoades’s campaign strategy, but from the outside, it doesn’t seem so hard to divine.
The challenge for Romney, often described as an android by his critics, was never going to be discipline. His problem is his past, namely the positions he advocated as he ran unsuccessfully to the left of Ted Kennedy in a 1994 Senate race and then his record as a Republican governor of a liberal state.