Earlier this month, several tech savvy young Republican consultants and policy strategists, all under the age of forty, announced the establishment of the Empower Action Group, a conservative counterpart to the left’s successful New Organizing Institute.
Patrick Ruffini, the thirty-four year old head of Engage DC, a well respected new media firm, spearheaded efforts to launch the organization. Ruffini has a long track record of digital successes. His career began in 2000, when he was the webmaster for the Bush-Cheney campaign. In 2009, he organized successful online fundraising efforts for Bob McDonnell’s winning campaign to become Governor of Virginia, and in 2010, he ran a “money bomb” campaign for Scott Brown’s Massachusetts Senate race that raised $10 million. Ruffini is also the author of “Inside the Cave,” the December, 2012 report that documented the 2012 Obama campaign’s dramatic technology superiority over the Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee.
Other young conservatives joining Ruffini in establishing the Empower Action Group include Reihan Salam, a 2000 Harvard graduate, National Review columnist and author of The Grand New Party, Katie Harbath, who now works at Facebook but was previously chief digital strategist for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and Kristen Soltis Anderson, a twenty-eight year old pollster at the Winston Group.
As Time Magazine described it, the Empower Action Group, “is envisioned as a conservative answer to the New Organizing Institute, a place for training and connecting young conservative talent. It will aim to increase the ranks of people with digital, data and organizing know-how working for the GOP.”
But Ruffini and his cohorts have a daunting task ahead of them. Their new organization just recently filed incorporation papers, and fundraising efforts have only begun. It is unclear how successful those efforts will be. Nonetheless, Ruffini remains upbeat about the need for the organization and its prospects. “We are just hoping to create more people who can go out and implement,” he said recently.
Meanwhile, next Monday, March 18, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will reveal the results of the much ballyhooed RNC “autopsy” of the failed 2012 campaign at the National Press Club. Priebus announced the formation of the so-called Growth and Opportunity Project three months ago, in December, 2012. The project is chaired by an ethnically diverse group of RNC insiders, including former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer, Haley Barbour’s nephew and Washington power broker Henry Barbour, and Zori Fonallades. At the time, Priebus did not explicitly state the group’s report would focus on the technology deficit Republicans experienced in the 2012 campaign.
By January, however, Priebus publicly acknowledged that Republicans needed to catch up in technology. He told the winter meeting of the Republican National Committee in Charlotte, North Carolina that “in the digital space, we don’t want just to keep up. We want to seize the lead.”
Priebus’s appointment last month of career politico Mike Shields to replace Jeff Larson as his chief of staff did little to encourage critics that the RNC is serious about addressing its huge technology deficit. Priebus may prove his critics wrong when he announces the findings of the Growth and Opportunity Project next Monday.
Regardless of the RNC’s approach to the technology deficit, Ruffini and his colleagues believe that the formation of the Empower Action Group is but the first step in establishing a conservative and Republican technology infrastructure that will rival what the left and the Democrats have built over the past decade.