Republican Consultants at ‘Reboot’: We Have the Tech Thing Now

First Computer ENIAC (Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty)
Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty
San Francisco, CA

Over the weekend, political hacks and techies converged for the second annual Reboot Conference in San Francisco. Chief technology directors of campaigns–including Barack Obama’s Organizing for America, along with several Republican campaigns–joined a panel that advised the campaign tech crowd.

Asked simply if Republicans have caught up with Democrats, former White House Digital Director Nate Lubin said, “No.” He continued, “I think you guys are definitely catching up. I think this conference is proof of that.”

“I think we came out of ‘12 thinking ‘what happened?’” said Scott Tranter of Marco Rubio’s campaign. “We all read the articles in the New York Times and Time magazine and said, ‘Gee, we thought we were great at this data thing and then we realized that we didn’t really know what we were doing.’ In ’14 it was figuring it out, and I think in ’16 you’re going to see a lot of us employ a lot of these practices, and where we lack is talent in terms of people who can do this stuff and have been inside campaigns.”

Adam Stryker of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) said that ultimately, “it’s about the people…it’s also about connecting with people externally and being able to share that vision and share that vision with those individuals.”

Andy Barkett of the RNC and DCC, which does work for clients including the Jeb Bush campaign, advised the crowd, “There’s a whole bunch of people in politics that say a lot of words, all the buzz words that we talked about, and say ‘I want more analytics,’ and none of them has any idea what any of those things mean.”

He continued, “If you’re starting an organization, be honest with yourself, you’re probably a political person, you probably don’t know what the f- you’re talking about. And the first thing you should do is probably dig in and learn. In the short run it will hurt you, because you will be exposed as a fraud. People will learn that you don’t know…but in the long run it will help you because you will then be one of the 1% of people in politics who does know what they’re talking about.”

Matt Oczkowski, with Scott Walker’s 2016 team, added: “Hire people that are smarter than you.”

Each panel member pointed to email as the most important “app,” saying it brings in the most money, promps people to show up at events, provides the most efficient communication, and grows a campaign’s list.

Barkett boasted that “my customer won this gig this week,” noting Jeb Bush was running around San Francisco while “Hillary’s not sure know how she feels about Uber.”

“I’ll take the fall for the Republican Party,” he added. “We were a terrible place for a smart technologist to come work. It was a terrible place for me when I first started, it was horrible, it was like the worst experience of my life. It’s good in different ways like learning a bunch of stuff, but it was like atrociously bad. But it is getting better.”

Asked about the “200 people in Republican politics that work in digital specifically, Barkett said, “I wouldn’t say all 220 of them are complete phonies,” but “almost none of them, probably 1 percent of them or 5 percent of them” are “genuine, well rounded technologists.”

Gerrit Lansing of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) was called out for tweeting from the stage.

Follow Michelle Moons on Twitter @MichelleDiana