The Conversation

What the NYT got wrong on Republican tech

In response to MUST READ: Can the Republicans be Saved from Obsolescence?:

A quick response to Liz. 

1. The New York Times article relies on a fundamentally flawed assumption: that because Republican Party leaders aren't doing something (using better technology, training organizers, encouraging entrepreneurs), that Democrats are doing it. Just look at the Democratic National Committee. It's a dinosaur, presided over by a hack's hack. Yes, the Obama campaign used better technology, but the structure of its social media effort in 2012 was decidedly top-down. Is there more freedom of thought, more creative policy, more local tinkering in the Democratic Party today, or the Republican Party today? We all know the answer to that.

2. The tech-savvy activists who won the 2008 and 2012 elections for Obama did not get permission to do so from the Democratic Party. They tried that route in 2002 and 2004, and when they failed, they eventually went outside, taking over in 2006 and especially in the 2008 Democratic primary. I have much respect for the new generation of Republican consultants but little patience for complaints that the party isn't prepared to listen or to spend money or whatever. If that's true, then--fine. Compete with the party establishment. Beat the party establishment. And find leaders who can demonstrate the power of your ideas and methods.

3. I can't set aside the Times' motives in the piece, because they color everything in the story. They suggest that the roots of Republican technological backwardness are ideological backwardness. In other words, the problem is not actually how Republicans sell their values, but those values themselves. This argument suits the interests of the same GOP establishment, ironically, that has failed to embrace new technology or to organize its supporters in the manner necessary to compete with the Obama campaign machine. There is also no description here of the stunning Tea Party success in 2010, which made extensive use of new media.

4. In the Olympics, they don't count track and field records that are "wind-assisted." Likewise, in politics, I am reluctant to heap praise on Obama's campaign efforts, or draw big lessons from them, when he gets so much help from the media. For all their genius, the tech wizards and data miners in the Obama campaign actually lost millions of votes from 2008. They lost Indiana and North Carolina. They did not win, or even contest, a single serious policy issue. They specialized in destroying Obama's opponent, and in that task they had hundreds of willing volunteers in the national press. Obama is largely, and uniquely, a media creation. 

5. For all the talk about tech lately, we are missing the importance of low-tech organizing, which is really the untold story of the 2012 campaign. Republicans would not have won if they had used better gadgets. But the GOP might have turned out hundreds of thousands of extra, critically needed votes if they had trained some organizers to get out the vote the old-fashioned way: by getting to know your voters personally, precinct by precinct, face to face, and making sure they showed up on Election Day. Obama can't actually use an iPhone, but he understands that part of campaigning well. It's "community organizing." We used to call it "politics."


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