A top GOP official on Thursday urged a hastily organized gathering of about three dozen conservative digital experts to stop causing negative publicity about the party’s technology problems because it could hurt fundraising, two people present told POLITICO.
Mike Shields, hired about two weeks ago as chief of staff for the Republican National Committee, held forth in the Reagan conference room at party headquarters with several major figures present, including current digital director Tyler Brown and Zac Moffatt, digital chief of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.Prompting the meeting was an earlier Politico report on how RNC plans to address its digital deficit:
Sources described the meeting as “tense” and aimed at “pre-damage control.” It opened with Shields giving out his email address and cell phone number and exhorting his audience to come to him — not journalists — with issues.
“He definitely said something along the lines of, ‘We can’t afford to have people going out and generating negative publicity and hurting our fundraising,’ ” one attendee said. “He said to stop telling people who really don’t understand what’s going on and telling people who don’t understand digital technology. The whole event seemed pressured to quell discussions with the media in general.”
The most specific promise, for instance, is to hire a digital director — dubbed a “chief technology officer” — who will be well-funded and empowered to be bold and innovative. That is regarded by many with cautious optimism, a hope that the party really means it this time, tempered by a sense of déjà vu. The RNC is regarding such a hire as an important new idea, but Republican strategists have been clamoring for it since Election Day and believe someone should already be in place.
“It’s almost like their quote is the same quote as before they hired Todd Herman and Cyrus Krohn,” said Vince Harris, newly hired digital director for the reelection campaign of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), referring to prior RNC tech figureheads. “My worry with the whole thing is that the RNC is looking at photo ops and flashy hires and sound bites, throwing out data and that at the end of the day that it’s hard to really change the culture of a sitting institution. And that’s what needs to be done.”
The sentiment was echoed by another prominent Republican digital expert, who asked not to be named because of working ties to the RNC. “Meet the old boss, same as the new boss,” the strategist said. “Every two years they have this new great person who’s going to change it. I’ll believe it when I see it.”