The institutions of the right need to talk to the whole country

Jon wrote an excellent post on the need for more war-room like functionality on the right. Rob Bluey, a friend, the editor of Heritage.org, one of the few trained journalists on the right, and an all-around great guy, disagreed with some of what Jon had to say:

We started The Foundry at Heritage to serve as a rapid response policy blog in January. Our focus was Congress and our objective was to write about policy. Isn’t that the same stated mission of Wonk Room, which debuted two months later?

Rob makes a good point. But he also, perhaps inadvertantly, demonstrates the problem with his argument also. Heritage exists to drive Congress. They have succeeded on an extraordinary number of levels. Heritage provided an informational advantage and a logistical efficiency. The 1-pager and the analytical apparatus gave conservatives a significant information advantage on the Hill. When the GOP took the House in 1994 and cut by a third the staff on the Hill, the Democrats lost all of their analytic ability on the Hill, amplifying the GOP advantage. This efficiency has also been part of the mythical message discipline that has somewhat collapsed.

I think that Jon’s point is that the new institutions of the left have these same advantages in new spheres. There are gaps that we are not currently addressing. Read on after the jump, if you want to know what these advantages are.

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Compare this for a second to Podesta’s description of CAP from a 2003(!) NYT Magazine piece by Matt Bai:

Podesta laid out his plan for what he likes to call a ”think tank on steroids.” Emulating those conservative institutions, he said, a message-oriented war room will send out a daily briefing to refute the positions and arguments of the right. An aggressive media department will book liberal thinkers on cable TV. There will be an ”edgy” Web site and a policy shop to formulate strong positions on foreign and domestic issues.

These guys are communicating. Heritage was created to operate on Congress. CAP was created to operate on the media and public opinion. Who books righty analysts on talk-shows? People book their own people. But who is thinking strategically about this?

The Foundry, which I love and which everyone should read, is not a "message-oriented war room". It is a 501(c)(3) that has to play very carefully within the legal limits of a 501(c)(3). All of the "edgy" emails come out of a 501(c)(4), CAP Action Fund, as does ThinkProgress.

I have heard that CAP devotes 40% of its budget to media activities. I would like to confirm that number.

But it doesn’t stop there. The Foundry discusses issues, like "Family and Religion", "Budget and Spending", "Education", "Energy", etc. These are about categorizing information. ThinkProgress discusses themes. They come in two categories: "what we are fighting for" and "what we are fighting against". They are fighting for "Healthy Communities"  or "A Secure America". They are fighting against a "corrupt establishment", a "braindead media", a "radical right wing agenda". These are about categorizing arguments.

This messaging advantage is comparable to Heritage’s information advantage. Not only do they have research, but they are spending money to move that research. Furthermore, the stuff is all on message.

There is also a comparable logistical efficiency. If you are a lefty interest group, you can shop info to Think Progress and (I suspect) they will move it, if it is good. This increases the likelihood of people seeing it. (Think Progress is a lot more interesting then the alphabet soup of lefty groups) And when they post it, it will be bottled up to be on message with the rest of the stuff they are pushing. This is a sort of force-multiplier effect.

The upshot is that, for the most part, the institutions on the right have been targetted towards the debate inside Washington. (Perhaps the most interesting exception is MRC and Newsbusters which are well tied into the talk radio ecosystem) At least CAP has been targetted towards the desimination of their message.

We need to go back to operating on public opinion. I don’t think that Jon’s original piece was so much an attack on conservative institutions, as it was arguing that our institutions are not necessarily focused on the right projects. Or, perhaps more correctly, that there are clear gaps that need to be addressed.