Andrew always pointed out that politics was far downstream from media and pop culture. By ceding the media and pop culture space, conservatives were always at an extreme disadvantage whenever a specific political debate arose. They could occasionally win certain battles, but they would always be fighting against extreme headwinds. Last night was a brutal reminder that Andrew was right.
This year, the GOP and its allies spent around $1 billion to win fewer votes than Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) received in 2008. To be sure, Obama won fewer votes than in 2008. Overall turnout was down about 14 million from four years ago. With so much at stake, and with so many resources at its disposal, how did the GOP manage to turn out fewer voters than McCain’s anemic campaign?
I should note that I got the electorate spectacularly wrong this election. I had thought that the 2008 electorate was an anomaly, and the 2010 electorate in general and the Wisconsin recall electorate earlier this year was more reflective of the partisan make-up in this country. To a large extent, I had put faith in a “silent majority” that would turn out yesterday and stem our nation’s decline. That block may be silent, but it is no longer the majority.
I also didn’t fully appreciate how damaged the GOP brand has become. When Anthony Bourdain makes gratuitous swipes at “Republicans” on a travel show talking about food in Rio, you’ve probably passed a tipping point.
According to exit polls conducted by Breitbart News, Obama again turned out the demographics he needed to win. Young voters, who believe the country is on the right track, again flocked to the polls and gave their support overwhelmingly to Obama. Women, even elderly women, gave much of their support to Obama.
Last night wasn’t so much a victory for Democrats, though. It was a victory for new media and Silicon Valley. The turnout program run by Obama was orders of magnitude more sophisticated than that run by Republicans. While the GOP focused on old-school metrics like doors knocked and calls made, Obama was utilizing the full capabilities of social media and micro-targeting to identify its voters and get them to the polls.
In many ways, the GOP ran a very sophisticated campaign from the 1990s. It put most of its money into fairly generic broadcast TV ads, while the Obama campaign put lots of resources into its voter ID and turnout operation. At times, its messaging seemed very small-bore and inconsequential, but it turned out to be perfectly calibrated to particular voters and reinforced by a larger media and cultural narrative.
Hopefully, the Romney campaign is the last run by the DC consultant class. They finally had the full range of resources to run their playbook, and it fell woefully short. I remember Andrew always urged the DC GOP to tap into conservatives in Hollywood and the creative arts to engage in the pop culture wars. He implored them to use their skills to hone their message and outreach. Those efforts were universally rebuffed by the consultant class.
We lost a tough election last night. But, the fight goes on. We must understand there is a limit to politics. Or rather, politics alone won’t save us. We are fighting for freedom. If we can’t sell that, as Andrew would say, then we suck.