by Eileen | 9:45 am, January 11, 2013 | Comments Off
The last time I saw Karl Rove, I was more interested in getting the waiter’s attention. Hacks will always make the rounds and make their statements but having to endure after-dinner coffee with no cream is the desideratum of civilization. Up on stage, Rove was outlining his process for winning in 2012. This was during the 2011 Lincoln Day dinners, a point when the lay of the land for taking back the Oval Office was uphill and difficult but entirely achievable.
Rove’s speech was filled with praise for our fair state, Colorado, that purple mountained battleground. Any talking head worth his honorarium will always remember to soothe the hands that write the checks, but he was at least a little on point in pointing out Colorado’s pivotal spot in 2012. At that point, Rove’s plan highlighted us, along with North Carolina and Virginia, as must wins…so he wasn’t all that far off. And, whatever else you might say about the man, he knows, or used to, how to win a campaign. What he doesn’t know how to do is lose gracefully.
Then again, neither did the Democrats in 2000 and 2004. And sore losers often make for very hard workers. The irony in my insistence that GOP failings might be corrected in many ways by copying Dems is that they copied the Republicans in the first place. The core idea of what carried them so far in 2006, 2008, and 2012 is something we came up with. In what is easily one of the most baffling acts of self-sabotage ever to play out on the American political stage, we shut down a brilliant system. Yes, all that microtargeting is now very closely linked with the left and they can rightly claim to have developed it greatly and done brilliant things with it. But it was our idea first.
This has gotten book length treatment, by a leftist, Sasha Issenberg, a Salon columnist. He chronicles the lessons his side learned from GOP successes at the height of the Rove years. Mr. Rove, more lately seen screaming on cable news, has not, that I know, seen fit to publish his thoughts on this.
In my mind, the contest of Bush v. Kerry remains a race where it’s still weird that Kerry lost. Days before the election, I expected 43 to be a single term President. For a long time, I considered it to be a race that Kerry lost more than a race that Bush won. Our saving grace, if the term may be used, seems to have been our data operation. Democrats have long admitted their panic over the GOP’s one-time ascendency on that front, or, as Mr. Issenberg describes things, “it just scared the shit out of all the Democrats.” I was also slightly bemused to learn that losing operatives from the Kerry team ran off to tropic shores for extended stays before facing facts. It seems the predilection for sticking sorry heads in five-star sand is not unique to our own malfunctioning flanks.
In this telling, Dems estimated themselves a full cycle behind us. For anyone conversant with the facts of the 2006 midterms, you will know it did not take them a full cycle to gain the vital ground. I also winced to be reminded that Bush got all the magnificent data application in 2004 for $3.25 million. Romney spent $65 million, give or take, on a single consulting firm. That unhappiness was palpably alleviated to find that our left-leaning comrades still rely on major donors for much of their funding. We are, at least, still the side of the individual donation. If you’ve never lost a job because “so-and-so decided not to make his annual gift and we have to cut three people,” then you understand how mighty it is to have a decentralized funding system. It does not do well for the integrity of a foundation or the fortunes of its workers when a few donors make up the entire budget and therefore control everything.
And it is on that point that Mr. Issenberg, who gets a lot right, goes wrong. He describes the highly centralized RNC with envy, describing an unchanging and unyielding machine where Washington controlled all, knew all, hired everyone, and paid everyone, lamenting his own party’s comparative lack of field staff with adequate “fealty” to the national party. The man is simply out of his mind. The RNC’s inscrutable pursuit of filling out every outpost with well-connected Potomac dolts has been our undoing. The only silver lining is that we now have such a rotted out national organization that there’s little value to even mimicking any respect, let alone ‘fealty’.
Mr. Issenberg describes Republicans who set themselves to developing a fine grained network during the Carter years, who obsessed over anticipating and exploiting new communication for half a century. Were we ever that sensible? It seems we toiled long days and then abandoned the harvest. A harvest the Democrats reaped well. We were their farm team, a sad reality that has yet to sink in among some sets.
It does, though, mean that if we get serious, which is to say, if we carry the grim-faced admission that we were had into a probing self-assessment and act on what we see, we’ve got loads of stuff to copy from our one-time students.
Blaise Hazelwood, once feted for developing the 72 hour strategy and Voter Vault, shared her feelings thusly: “There was a…sense that we figured out how to do this microtargeting—we’d figured it out how do to it pretty well—and now there are other things for the party to focus on.” That anyone who shaped the tactics of the Romney campaign could possibly have held such a belief utterly beggars belief. Then again, Miss Hazelwood is largely responsible for Michael Steele’s reign of corruption and malfeasance at the RNC. I relate this riotously deluded state of an individual who occupies the top rung of Republican politics to make a point.
Success goes to peoples’ heads we must look warily at the architects of past victories. Often, the people who excel at imagining, or developing, or launching great ideas are wretched when it comes to adapting and maintaining them. We are all, to varying degrees, susceptible to growing so fond of our best ideas that we resist any attempt to change them, even when that change is essential. Democrats took those ideas and grew them. I think they’re stupendous tactics, but they aren’t perfect and whatever variant of circa-2001 strategy was in use this past fall was, clearly, inadequate. I don’t mean to pick on poor Miss Hazelwood, but, whether she came by her inexplicable detachment from reality on her own or due to a life spent in tightly closed political circles, everyone who supported Romney’s presidential aspirations deserved far better than paying the fees of Blaise Hazelwood.
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