Posted on | February 21, 2014 | 32 Comments
Or, maybe, blame Karl Rove for the dumbed-down culture of the Republican Party that leads to stupid and unnecessary defeats. Everybody today is talking about Alex Roarty’s National Journal article, “The GOP’s Talent Gap,” which echoes a lot of the complaints one hears from Republican tech consultants and operatives:
The turnout experts, TV whizzes, and all-around gurus of the Grand Old Party have been outnumbered and outsmarted by their adversaries, who have spent a decade retrofitting their entire political infrastructure. The result is a dizzying talent gap between the two parties’ political classes, one that shows few signs of closing as the 2014 midterms begin. In some ways, the GOP is years behind on solving a problem that has no quick fixes.
The chasm is widest in technology, an area where Democrats have innovated heavily while Republican tactics ossified. But the data and digital divide, while getting most of the attention, is only a symptom of a larger problem that cuts fundamentally to how the Republican Party operates — not just at a tactical level but also a philosophical one. The well-worn pathways of the party’s operatives, in which every low-level staffer commits his or her career to becoming a well-paid TV specialist, must change. . . .
A party that celebrates individual achievement must learn to better share information and work together to form a new way of politicking—a practice Democrats have emphasized for years. For conservatives, that will smack of a collectivist mind-set they detest as a matter of public policy. But a top-to-bottom change in how the GOP’s political leadership thinks is exactly what many of its own strategists argue is necessary to catch up to Democrats.
“If you think [the] reason you lost to Obama is because you didn’t have a database, that’s just a fundamental misunderstanding,” said Patrick Ruffini, one of the party’s foremost digital consultants. “The problem lies not so much in not having those specific things. The problem lies in a culture.”
Tech-savvy consultants use the word “culture” a lot as they try to convince party leaders that closing the gap isn’t about finding the next technological widget. It’s about transforming how the party conducts its campaigns, from operations that rely heavily on TV and conventional wisdom to data-driven efforts that reach across all media. Most important, it requires that staffers on those campaigns, from campaign manager to rank-and-file workers, overhaul not just what they do but how they think.
You can read the whole thing. I’d add a couple of caveats:
- Good candidates win, bad candidates lose. Politics is really a lot more simple than the gurus and wizards would have you believe. Despite what anyone tells you about high tech, running a campaign is not rocket science, and a successful campaign requires a good candidate — or, at least, a candidate who is not so bad that he’s doomed to defeat from the outset. Barack Obama is a very bad president, but he was a very good candidate, and his success has a way of making Democrat strategists look a lot smarter than they actually are. A party that nominates a guaranteed loser like John McCain for president cannot blame the campaign staff for the inevitable defeat.
- Greed and egomania are killing the GOP — Yes, I’m talking about Karl Rove, who has been cashing in on his dubious reputation as “The Architect” for years, and whose American Crossroads super-PAC is a ginormous black hole where stupid rich Republican donors have thrown away millions of dollars for nothing. Rove has become a sort of role model for up-and-coming operatives who play by the same rules: It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, as long as you maintain a reputation as a genius so that people keep paying you the big bucks.
- Stupid money buys stupid results — Ultimately, the blame for the Republican Party’s systemic problems can be traced to the mega-donors like Sheldon Adelson, who think they understand politics as well as they understand whatever business they made their money in. They don’t, of course, and so the mega-donors are the pawns of whatever “expert” advisers they listen to.
- Media bias still matters — It is important, in considering the relative fortunes of the two major parties, to keep in mind that about 90% of America’s journalists vote Democrat. The GOP is always doomed to be sailing into gale-force headwinds of hostile media coverage, and whatever strategy the “experts” have offered to combat that prejudicial disadvantage, it ain’t working.
Ultimately, however, I blame Bush. Fairly or not, Bush’s reputation as a dimwit — his drawling malapropisms, etc. — alienated an entire generation of smart young kids who weren’t really excited about the American Conquest of Mesopotamia. The catastrophic disaster of the Iraq War permanently tainted the GOP among intellectuals, and the Republican Party hasn’t come to grips with that “brand damage” issue, primarily because the people running the GOP are unwilling to admit that the Bush presidency was a failure.