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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The State of the GOP

Robert Draper has a long piece in The New York Times on ideology, technology, and the Republican Party:
Exhibit A is the performance of the Romney brain trust, which has suffered an unusually vigorous postelection thrashing for badly losing a winnable race. Criticism begins with the candidate — a self-described data-driven chief executive who put his trust in alarmingly off-the-mark internal polls and apparently did not think to ask his subordinates why, for example, they were operating on the assumption that fewer black voters would turn out for Obama than in 2008. Romney’s senior strategist, Stuart Stevens, may well be remembered by historians, as one House Republican senior staff member put it to me, “as the last guy to run a presidential campaign who never tweeted.” (“It was raised many times with him,” a senior Romney official told me, “and he was very categorical about not wanting to and not thinking it was worth it.”)
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The party brand — which is to say, its message and its messengers — has become practically abhorrent to emerging demographic groups like Latinos and African-Americans, not to mention an entire generation of young voters. As one of the party’s most highly respected strategists told me: “It ought to concern people that the most Republican part of the electorate under Ronald Reagan were 18-to-29-year-olds. And today, people I know who are under 40 are embarrassed to say they’re Republicans. They’re embarrassed! They get harassed for it, the same way we used to give liberals a hard time.”
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 But the handful of conservatives who attended the [liberal RootcCamp] conference this past November were in no mood to sneer. One was Patrick Ruffini, a 34-year-old leader of the G.O.P.’s young-and-restless digerati. At RootsCamp, his breathless tweets of the sessions held by top Obama organizers — “In eight years, calling people will be obsolete”; “Digital organizing director and field director will be one and the same” — set off a buzz among Republican techies. Ruffini was plainly impressed by the openness of the experience. “I’m like, Wow, they’re doing this in front of 2,000 people, and the system seems to actually work,” he told me a month later. “The thing I was struck by at RootsCamp was that in many ways, the Democratic technology ecosystem has embraced the free market — whereas the Republican one sort of runs on socialism, with the R.N.C. being the overlord.”
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Erik Telford explained it this way: “I think there’s a very incestuous community of consultants who profit off certain tactics, and that creates bias and inhibits innovation.” Telford was suggesting that many of the party leaders, like Karl Rove and his American Crossroads super PAC, saw no financial advantage to bringing in avant-garde digital specialists, the types who were embraced by the Obama operation. For that matter, Zac Moffatt and his firm, Targeted Victory, enjoyed a virtual monopoly on the G.O.P.’s digital business during the lackluster 2012 cycle, which has made Moffatt an irresistible symbol for all that’s clubby and backward-thinking about the party. As Bret Jacobson said, half-jokingly, “If you have one firm that’s doing the top candidate, plus the R.N.C., plus the top outside group — the Department of Justice, in any other industry, would be actively asking questions.”