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Friday, April 11, 2014

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

If you follow politics at all, you are aware of the fact that in 2008 and 2012 the Obama team followed a game plan that was quite different than anything that had been done before in a race for the White House. I'm not referring to the shenanigans and outright voter fraud committed by groups like ACORN. I'm referring to the sophisticated, high tech organization that was created on Obama's behalf.  It was an amazing operation that identified virtually every prospective Obama voter and then turned them out on Election Day.  In fact, it did much more than that.  It enabled a new level of efficiency in the way voters were contacted, and it identified voters better than they had ever before been targeted. There is little doubt that this approach made the difference between victory and defeat, especially in the 2012 race. This new approach to campaigning is rightly attributed to Joe Trippi, the man who ran the first bottom up, internet campaign for president on behalf of Governor Howard Dean in 2004.  The story of this groundbreaking effort is told in Trippi’s well written book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

While Barack Obama won in 2012, he was the first president in the modern era to get re-elected with fewer votes than he received the first time.  In 2012, he won an electoral landslide, 332 to 206, however, Obama won just 51.1% of the popular vote.  The point is that the shift of just a very few votes per state or even per precinct could have thrown the election to Romney.

Collision 2012 is the book written by Washington Post writer Dan Balz. The full name of the book is Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America.  It explains why the Obama campaign was light years ahead of Romney and the Republicans in 2012.The following excerpts from this book are quite revealing...
"As the Republican candidates were gearing up and then battling one another through the summer and fall of 2011, the Obama team was investing enormous amounts of time, money and creative energy in what resembled a high-tech political start-up whose main purpose was to put more people on the streets, armed with more information about the voters they were contacting, than any campaign had ever attempted." 
"No campaign had ever invested so heavily in technology and analytics, and no campaign had ever had such stated ambitions."
"The next goal was to create a program that would allow everyone — campaign staffers in Chicago, state directors and their staff in the battlegrounds, field organizers, volunteers going door to door and volunteers at home — to communicate simply and seamlessly.  The Obama team wanted something that allowed the field organizers in the Des Moines or Columbus or Fairfax offices to have access to all the campaign’s information about the voters for whom they were responsible.  They wanted volunteer leaders to have online access as well."
"From modeling and testing, the campaign refined voter outreach. Virtually every e-mail it sent included a test of some sort — the subject line, the appeal, the message — designed to maximize contributions, volunteer hours and eventually turnout on Election Day.  The campaign would break out 18 smaller groups from e-mail lists, create 18 versions of an e-mail, and then watch the response rate for an hour and go with the winner — or take a combination of subject line and message from different e-mails and turn them into the finished product.  Big corporations had used such testing for years, but political campaigns had not." 
And, this is the most important lesson... 
“The gap between the Obama and Romney operations crystallized in the key battleground state of Ohio in the closing weeks of the general election campaign.  Members of Obama’s team had been on the ground in Ohio for years.  They knew the state intimately.  Obama had at least 130 offices there, plus 500 or so staging areas for volunteers.  He had almost 700 staffers on the Ohio payroll alone.  Thousands of volunteers contacted voters."
In stark contrast, the Romney team had only been on the ground in Ohio for a few months with a limited staff, few offices, and without access to the sophisticated technology that the Obama team was using.  Romney never really had a chance. The software platform that the Obama team created was used for communications up and down the organization, for fund raising, and especially for voter targeting.  Moreover, the Obama re-election effort began just a few weeks after Barack Obama was elected in 2008.

That is not to say that the Obama for President campaign of 2008 was not a sophisticated campaign built on technology, volunteers and lots and lots of money.  In 2008 the Obama campaign raised approximately $750 million, compared to $238 million for John McCain.  This enabled the Obama campaign to outspend the McCain campaign 4 to 1 in Florida, 3 to 1 in Virginia, 2 to 1 in New Hampshire, and 3 to 1 in North Carolina. But, it wasn’t just the spending advantage that made the difference, it was how effectively the money was spent that was also crucial to Obama’s success.

While the 2008 Obama campaign was the most technologically sophisticated presidential race ever conducted in American politics, it could not hold a candle to the technology that went into the 2012 race.  In fact, here is how Balz describes the dawn of the 2012 presidential race...
"From the moment Obama took the oath of office on January 20, 2009, and every day thereafter, his team was always at work preparing for the coming campaign. Everyone said Obama’s 2008 operation had rewritten the book on organizing, and in some ways that was accurate. But 2008 was just a beginning, a small first step toward what Obama's team envisioned when they began planning the reelection campaign. In one of their first conversations about the reelection, Messina [2012 re-election campaign chairman, Jim Messina] said he told the president that the reason they could not rerun 2008 was because so much had changed in just two years. Technology had leapfrogged forward, with new devices, net platforms, and vastly more opportunities to exploit social media."
As previously noted, the bottom-up campaign strategy that the Obama team used successfully in 2008, and then again in 2012, had its genesis in 2004 with the Dean for America campaign (Vermont Governor Howard Dean's campaign for president) run by Joe Trippi. The Dean campaign that failed to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2004 was the prototype for the Obama campaigns of 2008 and 2014.

The Dean campaign is significant for a number of reasons.  Although the internet and social media were in their infancy, Trippi has always had a strong interest in technology (he began his studies at San Jose State University in Aeronautical Engineering). This interest in technology and the internet made Trippi the right person in the right place at the right time. And, as it turns out, so was his candidate, Governor Howard Dean.

The essence of this new approach to campaigning is not about the technology itself, but rather the use of technology that enabled a little known governor from Vermont to crash the national scene. Even with this technology Howard Dean would not have gained the traction he did had he not been an outlier, an anti-establishment candidate.  Dean ran as an insurgent. He was able to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars as well as sign on hundreds of thousands of volunteers because he opposed the war (which most of his opposition had voted for it).  His success also stemmed from the technology utilized by Joe Trippi to empower his grassroots supporters.

Trippi's book is exceptionally well written, but my one criticism is that Trippi writes the book as if all history of presidential campaigning coincides with his coming of age politically in the 1960s and 70s. To hear Trippi tell it, there had never before has been such a grassroots, bottom up campaign for president and that it was only possible in 2004 thanks to the internet.

That's just not true. I suspect that there have been lots of bottom up campaigns in the history of our nation.  But, like Trippi, my knowledge is primarily limited to my own experience in politics. And, even before Dean and before Obama, there have been a number of political campaigns for president that originated at the grassroots and that were grassroots driven. The advent of the Internet and social media simply make it possible to do this faster and more thoroughly than ever before.

The Goldwater for President campaign of 1964 and the McGovern for President campaign of 1972 were both bottom up, grassroots campaigns.  Each of these campaigns has much in common with the Dean campaign of 2004 and the Obama campaign of 2008. Of course, the main difference is that Obama won, while Goldwater, McGovern and Dean lost.  Nevertheless, there is much similarity between these races.

In 1964 Barry Goldwater was a United States Senator, but he was clearly not a member of the Republican establishment. He was not a Republican insider any more than George McGovern was a Democratic insider, or Howard Dean was a Democratic insider. The Republican establishment hated Goldwater, much as McGovern and Dean were disliked by the Democratic establishment. Yet, all three of these men had vast followings for their principled positions on important issues.

Goldwater had written a book, Conscience of a Conservative, that sold more than 10 million copies. It was a bold and reasoned treatise arguing for a roll back in big government, and a hard line against Communism. That book (penned by L. Brent Bozell, a brother-in-law of William F. Buckley, Jr.), and the bold conservative positions taken by this previously little know senator from the lightly populated state of Arizona ignited a revolution at the grassroots.

As a personal anecdote I recall a gathering of our family at Christmas 1962. My older brothers were already out on their own and established in their careers. My oldest brother, Allen, was living in Los Angeles, and my brother Bob, and his wife, Kay, were living in Seattle. I was in my second year in college. We celebrated Christmas in Seattle, and when we arrived, each brother had a gift for the other two brothers. That gift was a Goldwater for President bumper strip. Without any coordination whatsoever, we had all become ardent Goldwater fans.

Prior to the Goldwater campaign the Republican National Committee had just 25,000 big donors and the liberal eastern wing of the Republican Party ran the show.  They picked the nominees for President and some of their leaders, like Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania, were as liberal as the most liberal Democrat Senators.  The Republican Party was in the firm grip of the moderate (read liberal) Republicans and they had no intention of letting go of it.

Let go of it they did, but not without a fight. Barry Goldwater was a reluctant candidate, especially after his friend, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald, a Marxist follower of Cuba’s Fidel Castro. But, Goldwater, and his book, symbolized growing unrest across the nation with expanding government, reduced individual freedom, and weakness in the face of Communist aggression around the globe. In the end, as my brother Bob put it, he found himself leading a conservative movement that he never fully comprehended.  However, while Goldwater lost the election in dramatic fashion, conservatives were triumphant. They had taken over the Republican Party from top to bottom. It was a true political revolution that made possible the triumph of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

In fact, Ronald Reagan, who prior to 1964 was known only as a Hollywood actor, played an instrumental role in the Goldwater campaign.  Similar to making a video on YouTube today, Ronald Reagan gave a made for television speech that, when broadcast, went viral, to use today’s terms. It was funded entirely in California, outside of the official campaign apparatus. The speech was entitled A Time for Choosing and it was a classic. I had an opportunity to view it again about ten days ago, and I can report that even in black and white, this is still a powerful speech.

Like a video on YouTube that goes viral, A Time for Choosing went viral.  All across the nation activists obtained copies of the speech, and then showed it to local audiences.  They also raised funds to pay for it to be broadcast over their local television station.  Almost overnight, A Time for Choosing became the Goldwater campaign. Millions of dollars in small gifts poured in to pay for repeated airings of the Reagan movie. And indeed, without this movie, Ronald Reagan would have never been elected Governor of California, or President of the United States. It was a speech that changed the course of history.

Prior to the Goldwater campaign the Republican National Committee had just 25,000 donors.  By the end of the Goldwater campaign there were more than 500,000 donors to the Goldwater campaign.  The funding base and the power base of the Republican Party was forever altered. But those 500,000 donors were not the extent of the grassroots effort on behalf of Goldwater.  It was through bottom up grassroots campaigning that the insurgent Goldwater effort topped the Republican establishment choice for President, Nelson Rockefeller in the California primary. Tens of thousands of conservative activists walked precincts, rounding up every possible vote in that key primary. The race was initially called by Walter Cronkite on CBS for Rockefeller. But by the early morning, the tide shifted and Barry Goldwater won the California primary in a squeaker. Winning California was tantamount to winning the Republican nomination for president.  And, shortly thereafter, in San Francisco, Goldwater became the Republican nominee for President.

In those days before the advent of the Federal Election Commission and their myriad of election restrictions, individuals all across the nation spontaneously started Goldwater fund raising efforts and waged a campaign for Senator Goldwater with little support or interference from the national organization. Among the dozen or more such groups, I recall Gold for Goldwater, a group that raised and spent several million dollars on behalf of Goldwater.

Joe Trippi hails the freedom of the Internet, and its ability to communicate up and down and side to side as revolutionary. Indeed it was. Similarly, prior to the advent of the Federal Election Commission, average citizens had the freedom to campaign for and raise funds for their favorite candidate without government regulation or interference. A lack of restrictions energized the entire political process and encouraged those at the grassroots to set up independent organizations for campaigning.  The truth is that the advent of the FEC was not brought about by any true demand or need for protection of the average citizen.  Rather it was created by the establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, to protect those in power.  Instead of protecting citizens, it diminished the power and opportunity of the grassroots to participate in the political process.

That is why the current ruling establishment would like nothing better than to regulate the Internet in the "public interest." And, of course, by public interest they are referring to the interest of the ruling class, the Republican and Democrat establishment.

In 1972 Senator George McGovern took over the Democratic Party.  McGovern had been a prairie radical his entire adult life.  In 1948 he was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.  If you recall, it was at that convention that southern Democrats split off from the Democratic Party and formed the Dixiecrat Party whose nominee was Strom Thurmond.  Harry Truman was eventually nominated at the 1948 convention.  It was after Truman won a squeaker of an election over Thomas Dewey that the Democratic Party first proposed a version of socialized medicine. 

But, what is noteworthy, is that President Harry Truman was not liberal enough for George McGovern. When Truman was nominated in 1948, George McGovern left the Democratic Party and supported Norman Thomas, the Socialist Party candidate for president. But, by 1972 the prairie radicals in the Democratic Party, led by George McGovern, had come of age. McGovern won the nomination only to lose in a landslide to Richard Nixon. However, had McGovern not won the nomination in 1972 and taken over control of the Democratic Party it would not have been possible for Barack Obama to be elected president in 2008.

Prior to the nomination of George McGovern the Democratic Party was controlled by party bosses like Jim Farley, who relied on funding by the unions and from a limited number of wealthy individuals. However, after McGovern was nominated, direct mail whiz Morris Dees altered the funding base of the Democratic Party forever. Dees generated some 700,000 donors to the George McGovern campaign, thus undercutting the strength of the previous Democratic establishment.  And, while McGovern was spurned by every union in America except the National Education Association, his nomination was the turning point for the radicalization of American unions.  Of course, there had been union radicals before, like Harry Bridges of the Longshoreman's Union, but by and large AFL-CIO leaders like George Meany were anti-communist and pro capitalism.  Today that has all changed.  The Democratic Party and the Unions are in total control of Marxist radicals.  None of this could have happened without the nomination of George McGovern whose campaign, like the Goldwater campaign before it, was from the grassroots up.

What do Goldwater, McGovern and Dean all have in common?  They are men who were disliked by the establishment, who took positions contrary to the political establishment, and whose message tapped into a large grassroots audience.

None of this is to diminish the importance of what Joe Trippi accomplished in 2004 or his creativity and ingenuity in using the internet to empower the grassroots organization that was the backbone of the Howard Dean campaign.  It is truly an amazing story.  The Dean Campaign was a high wire effort that Trippi likens to jumping off a fifteen story building and counting on the grassroots supporters to catch you.

And, Trippi correctly identifies the strength of an internet based campaign as its ability to be driven from the bottom up.  He agrees that television revolutionized the campaigning process, but like all mediums before it, it pushed out information to the voters that the campaign thought the grassroots should receive. In contrast, the internet is a two way street that allows the grassroots to tell the campaign what they want, instead of the campaign telling the grassroots what they should do.

And, the internet, especially social media like Facebook and Twitter, allow a campaign to gather public data on its volunteers and donors, thus enabling the campaign to reach them on issues they feel strongly about.  More than that, the internet empowers individuals to take the initiative in a campaign, driving themes, and effectively running their own campaign effort on the local level. It means that campaigns must trust their volunteers and have confidence in them.  The campaign must not think that they have all the good ideas. Trippi likens it to placing power in the hands of the folks at the grassroots to drive the train and take it to the right destination.

The bottom line is this…the computer age, the internet age, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. have created new avenues of communication and coordination.  They have empowered the grassroots activist.  However, I do not believe these are tools that will work well for establishment candidates in either major political party.  These tools work best for outsiders who have bucked the establishment and seek to lead a revolution.  They work best for those who can energize the grassroots through issues and ideas.

To effectively win on the national level today a candidate needs to be leading a charge that has a specifically defined objective that is popular at the grassroots level.  It takes four things to win on the national level today…
  1. A powerful software platform that can identify and categorize prospective voters and donors
  2. A strong grassroots organization built upon the software platform that is created
  3. Early money that will help build the software platform, and
  4. Sufficient time to raise the funds, build the software platform, and utilize the platform to organize and raise more funds
A presidential campaign that waits until a few month before the first presidential primary to raise funds, create a software platform, and then build an effective organization is destined to fail. This is not your father’s political landscape. This is a new era.

Some prospective Republican candidates for 2016 have already lost the nomination and they don't know it.  Other candidates or their surrogate SuperPAC have already raised early money, utilized technology, and are building a grassroots base.  These are the candidates to watch.  However, unless they are outside the establishment with a popular call to arms, they too will fail in their quest to win their party's nomination and after that the general election.

A big donor base that can be accessed quickly in a fast moving delegate selection process is not a luxury, it is a necessity.  Only those candidates who are making preparations now and who have legions of volunteers and supporters will have a chance of winning in 2016.

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