Patrick Ruffini wrote an interesting post about, what he called, different modes of activism. I thought that he was arguing that the online left was unfocused, and that it was hard to convert to GOTV, which was where the rubber really meets the road. I responded and argued that there was a real disconnect on the left between the "movement," which the netroots are pushing, and the party, which is much more static.
Patrick responded that this criticism was too campaign-focused was a little unfair:
Actually, I don’t. My objective in the original post was to lay out a framework in which winning campaigns could build and sustain a movement beyond Election Day. Campaigns should be cumulative. We don’t have time to relearn all the lessons from cycle to cycle, nor to reactivate our volunteers.
And, indeed, he is right that these are great ideas. His story about the President demanding a strategy that "leaves something behind" is a little inspiring. And I was in Ohio for a couple of weeks. A nuclear bomb was dropped on the Ohio GOP, and it faced minimal legislative losses and even picked up a seat on the state high court. There is no question that BC04 left "something behind" there.
But the party also did something else. It centralized an enormous amount of information. I don’t know what all I know is covered by some sort of confidentiality agreement, but there were a lot of data-appends from a lot of sources. And that applies to voter lists, volunteer lists, etc. In some sense, the party is capable of mobilizing the current coalition without going to the groups.
It seems that Patrick and I agree that this coalition, the "movement", and the party is probably not enough. And the question for us is going to be where we go:
Even then, the question is what does a new conservative movement look like? We’ve been running on low taxes, social conservatism, strong defense for thirty years. Are there new issues to rally around? Usually, movements arise because of needs unmet by the establishment. Right now, that’s immigration and spending (though on the latter, the leadership pays lip service to the cause).
As recent readers will notice, I don’t think that immigration is going to be the issue that gets us to a majority. The real point that Patrick makes is:
So, the movement will probably have to be outside the current campaigns.
And that’s really the point. And that’s what the netroots have been doing. They weren’t happy with the party or the campaigns. And so they started to rejigger the coalition. They didn’t need the party’s permission to kick its butt.
The original point that I tried to make is that there is a fundamental difference that "we" have been pursuing and what they are. They are rebuilding their coalition. In some sense, I think it is easier for them because the main component of their coalition that they are adding and activating is middle and upper-middle class "liberals", as opposed to the parts of the coalition that are interest group related. These people have been entering the Democratic coalition for a while. The netroots have been consolidating them. In 2004, we consolidated the coalition. The problem is that now, that consolidation may be for naught.
If there is no consensus on where the party goes, then this will probably be decided by a series of experiments involving primaries, national elections, and evolving coalitions in Congress. One upshot of the Goldwater/Reagan model was that the party agreed where to go from there. That’s what Reagan running in 1968, 1976, and 1980 did.
The question for us is going to be what constituencies or ideas we can add, in a coherent way. And we need to figure out who we have been bleeding and why. There are several ideas floating. One is anti-immigration, which is both wrong and small ball. One is David Brooks’ recent musings. One is Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam‘s "Sam’s Club Republicans". The Bush answer is that we expand the current coalition beyond its white base. It is becoming entirely clear that some nostalgic returning to Reagan will not do it. That is why the Fred Thompson candidacy is both soothing and ultimately losing. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani have other answers. Another answer is Mitt Romney’s, which would resemble the Thompson/Reagan strategy with a new image on health care. It is hard to know who he would add, except at the margins. No ideas, just image.
Returning to the question of comparing the use of technology on the right and the left, we may have to offer tools to make building this new coalition easier. But, again, this is a secondary question to actually having a coalition. Alternatively, we might just need to make the existing coalition more effective, while the political problem is resolved.