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The Growth & Opportunity Disconnect

The recent RNC “Growth and Opportunity Project” report deserves a full read, both for what it gets right and for what it telegraphs about the party elites.  I dissected the report as it relates to leap frogging the Democrats on data-analytics, but there are other fundamental issues.

The report suffers from category overlap, excessive length and wooden prose.  Breitbart challenges it on many inconsistencies noting a lack of intellectual coherence that is the result—in part—of writing by committee.   Breitbart criticises from the paleo-right, saying:

“… the fundamental flaw of the report [is] a failure to acknowledge… the successes of the recent past–all of which were built on conservative revival.”

On NRO online, Ramesh Ponnuru targets elitism, saying:

The Republican report reflects this elite conventional wisdom perfectly, just perfectly… The report does not, however, engage in the thorough data-driven analysis of what has gone wrong for Republicans that the party needs.

One Ponnuru comment opines snarkily, “My guess is that the actual data-driven analysis is sitting in a very secure vault right now because its conclusions aren’t… rosy.”

None of the critiques are backed up by data-analytics, by comprehensive polling or by qualitative and quantitative market research.  As Ponnuru says, “The report doesn’t even try to demonstrate [how policy proposals] would win the party more voters than it loses… pretty important when political advice is being handed out.”

Sniping aside, lets give credit where credit is due.

The RNC has done a superlative job raising money.  The report sections on fundraising create great optimism.  The RNC went from $7 mil in 2010 fundraising to $140 mil in 2012!  But the stellar success in raising money does seem to have been combined so far with a perfect storm of incompetence spending the cash.   All that money—but Romney loses and the party flounders.

So why the disconnect?

I believe Sasha Issenberg’s new book The Victory Lab gives us important clues.  In it, the battle between The Geeks (data-analytics-GOTV nerds) and The Gurus (consultants, messaging experts, ad creators) is portrayed as an epic struggle reshaping modern politics.

With a deeply divided electorate, the 2% to 6% difference The Geeks can now demonstrably deliver is the margin of victory in presidential races and all close contests.  The Geek battlefield is in flux—Rove era Republican propeller heads were far ahead, but Obama Democrats in the Cave leap frogged and slaughtered Romney.  Meanwhile, The Gurus— consultants on both sides— are increasingly irrelevant, overpaid dinosaurs that don’t deliver but never seem to become extinct.

The authors of the RNC report may be correct in an analysis that is somewhat under the radar.  The report calls for rebuilding party institutions like the RNC as repositories of talent, technique and funding prowess.  Against a backdrop of campaign finance reform, the 60 year history of the hollowing out of parties, the rise of huckster consultants and of campaigns that come and go, rebuilding party institutions makes sense.

The RNC report is smart and strategic in its Campaign Mechanics section, comprising Data, Digital, Polling, etc. which is the heart of the party as institution.

The report recognizes that new Geek political technology may be both the opportunity and the imperative for rebuilding the RNC to insure institutional continuity.  If the days of aerial combat with mass media are giving way to an era of granular data, microtargeting and high touch GOTV ground games— an infantry war— strong parties are essential.  This is the thesis of The Victory Lab.

Which brings us to the Data Analytics Institute the RNC report recommends.

The report hints this new Institute should be built in Silicon Valley.  The skunk works and venture capital entrepreneurial culture of the Valley is the ideal place to locate what will become a critical RNC institution.  We developed the internet here (really!), invented the microcomputer, built the wealthiest most innovative tech corporations and are the perfect place to build the RNC Data-Digital-Polling Analytics Institute.   The RNC report suffers from category overlap.  Better all the political tech under one synergistic roof.

There is one more reason.  We’ve got the distribution model the RNC report calls for in our genome.

In Northern California we invented open source.  We’re the home of Google, Facebook, Oracle, Salesforce and other major corporations, but also the birthplace of Craigslist, Mozilla-Firefox, Wikipedia, etc.  The Geek tools developed at the new Institute need to be rolled out widely and free of charge to the entire universe of conservatism and Republicanism.

Who’s got the mojo?  California.