The Plan for the Future
As Republicans, we face a choice.
Either we can spend the next several months -- or years -- trying to figure out what just happened, excusing our defeat away as a temporary blip or the result of a poor environment, and waiting for Barack Obama to trip up. Or we can refuse to take this defeat lying down, and start building the future of our party now.
2008 made one thing clear: if allowed to go unchecked, the Democrats' structural advantages, including their use of the Internet, their more than 2-to-1 advantage with young voters, their discovery of a better grassroots model -- will be as big a threat to the future of the GOP as the toxic political environment we have faced the last few years.
The time is now to set in motion the changes needed to rebuild our party from the grassroots up, modernize the way we run campaigns, and attract different, energetic, and younger candidates at all levels.
We must be conservative in philosophy -- but bold in our approach. We don't need a slight tweak here or there. We need transformation. We can't keep fighting a 21st century war with 20th century weapons.
This is a document about bringing the Republican Party into the future -- and it isn't just about strategies and tactics.
Revitalizing the party will have much to do with how we talk about issues and standing on principle. And, above all, it will require leadership.
At the same time, waiting for a political savior to materialize out of thin air is not an option. Eventually, strong new leaders will emerge. And when they do, they must inherit a party stronger than the one in its current state. Our grassroots must be stronger and more open. We must inspire young leaders to want to run for office as Republicans.
We are asking all the candidates for RNC Chairman to pledge their support for this plan as a starting point for our way out of the wilderness.
Our focus will not end with the current party leadership race. We will continue advancing the tenets of this plan throughout the next election cycle. We will hold our leaders accountable for implementing the plan. And we'll continue to refine with feedback from smart, up-and-coming leaders in the GOP, and help our local parties implement this strategy at the local level.
Change starts now. Complacency is no longer an option.
The Internet: Our #1 Priority in the Next Four Years
Winning the technology war with the Democrats must be the RNC's number one priority in the next four years.
The challenge is daunting, but if we adopt a strongly anti-Washington message and charge hard against Obama and the Democrats, we will energize our grassroots base. Among other benefits, this will create real demand for new ways to organize and route around existing power structures that favor the Democrats. And, you will soon discover, online organizing is by far the most efficient way to transform our party structures to be able to compete against what is likely to be a $1 billion Obama re-election campaign in 2012.
Our near loss in the 2000 election sparked the 72 Hour program, after a brutal realization that we were being out-hustled in GOTV activities in the final days. Our partial success in the 2000 election didn't blind us to the need for change, and our eyes must be wide open now. Barack Obama and the Democrats' ability to build their entire fundraising, GOTV, and communications machine from the Internet is the #1 existential challenge to our existing party model.
Change is never easy, but as in the post-2000 period, it begins with tough love and a focus on what must be done at the local level.
What's Wrong -- And How to Fix It
- Recruit 5 million new Republican online activists. Even
a compelling message won't go anywhere if we have no one to communicate
it to. The next Chairman must undertake a crash program to grow the
RNC's email file organically -- no spam and no "e-pending" from voter
files. This will likely require a two-pronged strategy -- 1) engaging
grassroots Republicans directly in the fight against the Obama agenda,
with creative grassroots actions that make Republicans want to stand
together with members of their party, and 2) integrating e-mail signups
into everything we do at the grassroots level, ensuring that everyone
who goes to an event and or is contacted by a volunteer is given the
opportunity to join our network.
This goal seems daunting, but it forces us to think creatively about creating the sharpest, most compelling messages that will make people want to join us by the millions. If Newt Gingrich and T. Boone Pickens could each build an army of 1.4 million activists around energy, and Barack Obama could recruit 3 million to receive his VP selection by text message, then we know this is possible. If anything, given where the Internet will be in 2 or 4 years, we are low-balling the potential to create a new Republican online army.
- Hold campaigns and local parties accountable. As
important as it is that we invest in new technology at the national
level, we must remember that the RNC's primary objective is to win
races state by state and district by district, not build up its own
To pursue this essential mission, individual campaigns must be held accountable for the number of emails they collect and the money they raise online. As much high-level attention must be paid to candidates' online strategy as with the number of voter contacts made into a particular district or if the right media strategist is working the race. We must end a sense of dependence on the RNC at all levels -- in which the RNC simply turns over its lists -- and set goals that the campaigns must find creative and aggressive ways to meet:
In target 2010 Congressional races, we recommend setting a standard of at least 5,000 in-district online activists recruited, and a minimum of $100,000 raised online.
In target 2010 Senate races, we recommend a standard of 7,500 in-district online activists recruited and $150,000 raised online for each Congressional district.
- A more open technology ecosystem. As tempting as it is to believe that there is a silver bullet to solve all our technology problems, this is very rarely the case. The technology gap will not be solved by funding multimillion dollar white elephants, but by unleashing free market competition among trusted entrepreneurs and volunteers who want to help the party. The RNC should open its technology ecosystem so that trusted partners can develop on top of GOP.com and Voter Vault. We must build a corps of outside technology volunteers who compete to write applications that actually improve party operations -- and invest in the best ones. We must look beyond conventional political approaches to the Web, learning from technology hubs like Silicon Valley, and being unafraid to be the first in politics to adopt the changes in technology that are revolutionizing the consumer market.
Changing the Way We Run the Party
Everywhere we look, we see ordinary Americans using the connective power of the Internet to organize and take control of party politics. Look at what happened in our own primary with Ron Paul and Mike Huckabee coming out of nowhere largely with the help of the Internet, winning surprising political and fundraising victories. Before the Internet, Barack Obama would never have defeated Hillary Clinton to become the Democratic nominee and the next President.
The power of traditional connections is being replaced by the power of mass connectedness. Politics is taking place on a grander stage than ever before, with millions, and not just tens of thousands -- participating directly in the process. Millions of people can not only vote, but they can organize with each other across geographic boundaries to build political power in real time. Their sheer scale allows them to rapidly outflank traditional power brokers in a way that simply wasn't possible before.
The Republican Party can no longer survive in a modern era if we resist this new reality. With our power in Washington waning, our grassroots are the source of our greatest strength -- not a problem to be managed. To revitalize ourselves, we must invite the crowd back in and tap their energy and creativity.
This isn't just about the Internet -- it's about recognizing that in a people-powered era, with the power of technology-empowered grassroots movements on the rise -- everything about the way we mobilize voters changes. Campaign plans that called for a few hundred or thousand volunteers making phone calls in the final days are hopelessly quaint and limiting in an era when millions of people want to feel connected and involved 24/7.
What's Wrong -- And How to Fix It
- Rebuilding Our Grassroots Infrastructure. The
fabric of the Republican Party at the local level is rending. We saw it
this spring when a small and energized base of Ron Paul supporters
succeeded in taking over many local party organizations.
The reality is that this happened because our existing local party institutions are not all they could be. The Republican Party must be a civic institution again, with a volunteer base that is active year-round and is given real responsibility beyond showing up at a phone bank. In this last election, it should have been possible for volunteer leaders to organize their precinct or neighborhood for McCain, tasking them with knocking on doors, distributing signs, and most crucially, recruiting other volunteers to build the party exponentially. Instead, virtually all volunteer activity was channeled towards driving casual phone contacts, not personal neighbor-to-neighbor door knocks.
Our technology should give Republican activists the ability to connect with fellow activists at the precinct level. We must encourage the growth of standalone volunteer communities, giving them the tools to organize themselves online, with the official party taking a step back and not trying to control them. We can't anyway.
Initially, the most important mode of contact will be volunteer-to-volunteer. It is only once we have built this army -- one small group at a time -- that we'll be ready to go out in the field and talk to our voters. In the last campaign, the Republican Party banked on its strong get-out-the-vote (GOTV) operation, but even the strongest turnout operation could not have overcome the Democrats' stronger recruitment, registration and persuasion efforts in the early phases of the cycle.
- Time for a new fundraising model. The ability
to raise startup capital precedes virtually everything else on a
campaign. But those of us who worked the 2008 campaigns saw how
everything -- including political travel and grassroots outreach -- was
subsumed to maintain an aggressive high-dollar events schedule.
Contrast this with the new President-elect. In addition to doing high-dollar events early on, he held rallies in major cities and required an e-mail address to attend. The 20,000 e-mail addresses collected at each of these events probably produced hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions down the line, not to mention countless hours of volunteer time. By the end of the campaign, Obama didn't have to do events, because he could raise virtually unlimited sums from a network of millions that his campaign continued to grow at every opportunity. The campaigns of the future will be infinitely scalable, blurring the lines between fundraising, volunteer recruitment, and message, and require more resources than traditional sources can possibly raise.
This means kick starting a generational transition to the new fundraising model. Right now, we cannot compete with the Democrats' scalable online fundraising machine and if this is not corrected our party will face a long-term financial deficit. A big part of this will be growing a millions-strong network of supporters and giving them something to rally around. Moreover, our candidate recruitment should focus less on a candidate's ability to collect $2,300 checks or to self-fund than on the strength of their message -- which will ultimately attract more small and high dollar donors online and off. Traditional fundraising is still important, but in modern campaigns, it's more like startup venture capital money than a long-term cash cow. We must change the culture of how we fundraise. The end goal of this effort must be clear: put our 2012 Presidential nominee in a position to raise over 50% of their money from the Internet.
- A 25,000-strong Nationwide Campaign Force. It
isn't just our candidate recruitment that's wanting. We must replenish
our pool of trained campaign workers who know how to win races from
school board to the Senate, and who know how to integrate new media
into their field and communications efforts.
To do this, we propose that the next RNC Chair make it a priority to train 25,000 high-level activists by 2012. A few thousand of these will go on to run races. The rest will form the nexus of a permanent volunteer corps that keeps the Republican Party strong and relevant in local communities. And this training must occur in all 50 states and over the Internet, and not just in Washington, D.C.
- Reorganizing the RNC. In order to accomplish these goals, the RNC's organizational structure will need to change. It is not enough to have a dedicated eCampaign division if other departments fail to use the Internet to transform how they do business in this new environment. The Internet should pervade everything the RNC does, and leadership on this front must come directly from the Chairman's Office.
Recruiting a New Generation of Candidates
Thus far, we've talked about building a better rocket to launch our party into orbit. But we are mindful of the fact that our candidates are the rocket fuel that gets us there. Without inspiring candidates with clear messages to rally around, all the strategies and tactics in the world will be for naught.
What's Wrong -- And How to Fix It
- The 435 district strategy. By 2012, the
Republican Party will field candidates in all 435 Congressional
districts in America, from inner city Philadelphia to suburban Dallas,
and our leaders must be held accountable for progress towards this
goal. With an 80 plus vote margin separating Democrats from Republicans
in the House, it's time to widen the playing field, not narrow it.
While our targeting has gotten narrower, honing in on a class of seats
we feel entitled to because they lean Republican, Democrats have been
stealing traditionally 60-40 Republican seats right and left. It's time
to return the favor.
What's more, it won't be good enough to run perfunctory races in safe seats. 2008 showed us that every seat -- Republican or Democrat -- is potentially a target. If you aren't seriously challenged this time, chances are you'll be challenged the next time, or the time after that. Incumbents who don't prepare for this reality will find themselves scrambling to catch up when the inevitable happens. That means that our party needs to set a new standard that campaigns will be professional and fully staffed in each and every seat.
- But don't stop at Congress. Building our bench
and waging aggressive challenges doesn't stop at Congress. State party
chairs must also be held accountable for progress towards filing in
100% of state legislative races, with funding tied to progress towards
this goal. The state houses are our bench, providing future leadership
not just in Congress but in governorships and other statewide offices.
They will also drive the 2010-12 redistricting cycle. The RNC must play
a constructive role in recruiting and training candidates from the
state house on up -- and not just at the federal level. Just as Major
League Baseball could not function without a vibrant minor league
ecosystem, we must get back to basics and grow and nurture our party
where it works best -- closest to the people.
- A "40 Under 40" initiative. Undoing the damage to our party's brand among America's youth will take more than new slogans and hip spokespeople. It will mean making young voters the face of the Republican Party, and not just another target group with its own bulleted list of "outreach" talking points. To that end, the next Chairman should commit to a simple goal: working towards a Republican Party where at least 40% of our challenger and open seat candidates for Congress are under 40. Such a party will send a signal to all Americans that the GOP is once again the party of the future.
Afterword: The Politics of Us
Obama's victory could be a blessing in disguise for conservatives. Why? Because Obama's winning strategy was built on the back of an inherently conservative idea: that we the people, acting together outside of government, can accomplish great things. Or, in the words of the overused slogan, "Yes We Can."
The irony here is that Obama as President would act in ways that contradict the bottom-up culture that fueled his campaign. In the campaign, it was "Yes We Can." In the White House, it will be "Yes, Government Can." Obama's top-down government control of the health care and the economy will give conservatives an opening to once again recapture the mantle of distributed citizen activism.
Obama campaigned against the establishment, and now he is the establishment.
Consider these contrasts. Like the Internet, free markets are distributed and allow good ideas to rise from the bottom up. The bureaucracies that Obama prefers are inherently top-down and stifling.
And yet Democrats have been allowed to get away with the notion that their success online is fueled by a "bottom-up" culture while Republicans are "top-down." Ironic -- given that Democrats want top-down government control of your life, while Republicans believe in dynamic markets and a strong civil society.
Some people believe our problems are mostly strategic and tactical. Others believe they are policy driven. It strikes us that there is a unifying solution to both, and that is to empower the individual, trust the people.
Just as Republicans must trust individuals and families with their own money, we must trust the volunteers who walk into our headquarters and train them to take responsibility for entire neighborhoods. We must trust the online grassroots who want to take action on our behalf, and who need a decentralized, peer-to-peer volunteer community supported by our campaigns to really be successful. That will require giving up some control -- more control than our traditional institutions are used to giving up -- in exchange for an exponentially larger and more effective volunteer/donor/activist ecosystem.
Obama tapped the Internet successfully because he made it about "you" and "us" not "me" and "I." You were invited in. You were a key part of his campaign/movement. Your help was truly appreciated. Republican candidates need to grow more comfortable talking in these terms and focus less on being inaccessible objects of hero worship (the "me/I" strategy).
Because of the Internet, "us" becomes a force more powerful than any in politics. The ability to donate or volunteer instantaneously online gives the millions of "us" more leverage than even the most connected group of insiders. Only "us" will be powerful enough to fund the first $1 billion Presidential candidate. By embracing the Politics of Us, the Republican Party can rediscover its roots as the party of individual liberty and build a truly modern political army.