Pick our fights and move to the states

My central insight in my recent disagreement with Patrick is that the creativity will take place in the states. While there will be some very important fights in Washington over the next 2-4 years, in particular health care, card check, and bailouts, another equally important fight will happen in 40 or more states over that time period. In the federal fights, our answer is likely to be simply: NO.

But at the states, something else will happen. Check out this map (click for a larger version), courtesy of the New York Times, via The Big Picture:

Our states -- and our municipalities -- are in fiscal crisis. They have gotten drunk on revenue from a credit bubble. As the economy deleverages to something sane, state and local revenue is, or has already, collapsed. Education budgets based on property taxes will develop massive holes when assessments reflect 40% drops in housing prices. Examples, from the NYT story above, of how bad it is:

In Michigan, to reduce overtime costs, fewer streets will be salted this winter. In Ohio, where the unemployment rate is above 7 percent, the state may need a federal loan for the first time in 26 years to cover unemployment costs. In Nevada, which is almost totally dependent on sales taxes and gamblingrevenues, a health administrator said the state may be unable to pay claims in a few months.

So we are going to need to cut spending and/or raise taxes to pay for some of these services. We are probably going to end up fighting over taxes. I searched Google News for "state tax increases" and came up with the following headlines from the last 24 hours:

And, of course, the government employees unions, with their unsustainable pensions on the model of GM and Ford, are shaking the cup for their local and state tax increases too, as I have pointed out before.

There are opportunities here for Republicans to fix the brand. We can demand no tax increases. Perhaps more importantly, we can demand cost-saving reforms in government services. The leaders and winners of these fights will be the ones who will have earned their place as party leaders in the future.

Once again, the salvation for our party and our future leaders don't reside in Washington. The real action will be in the state capitals.  Outside of stopping some bailouts, the real action will reside there.

So let's stop talking about Washington and figure out how to play in these states, state by state, municipality by municipality.

By Soren Dayton, ago

Leftist Canadian parties to bring government down over campaign finance laws

No really. I am serious here

In Canada, after a federal election, federal parties receive a grant from the federal government equivalent to $1.75 Canadian for every vote that the party received. The newly re-elected Conservative government tried to repeal that subsidy of political parties:

The opposition said the update did not contain needed stimulus for an economy increasingly squeezed by the global downturn, but they were most angered by a planned end to direct public financing of political parties.
Recall that in the last Canadian federal election, the Conservatives won a minority government and the Liberal Party had their worst showing in Canadian history. So, in response to an attempt by the Conservatives to take political parties off the public dime, what do the Liberals do? Bring down the government and try to install themselves:
If neither side blinks, the government will likely fall, and Canada would either head into another election or into some sort of coalition led by the Liberals. The other two opposition parties are the separatist Bloc Quebecois and the left-leaning New Democratic Party.
Insanity. Pure insanity.

By Soren Dayton, ago

Will the Mumbai attack remind the West that India is our ally?

In this tragedy, there is an opportunity

Somehow, in the debate over globalization and geopolitical strategy, India has been a sort of bastard step-child. Due to understandable economic concerns -- China holds much of our debt, produces much of our consumer goods, and has had eye-popping foreign direct investment driven growth -- our focus has been on China.

Yet India's population is still growing, its universities are first tier, and it is integrated into the West intellectually, psychologically, scientifically, among others, like no other Asian county. Part of this is because they speak the lingua franca of the West, English. I am not going to argue that China is in strategic decline, but rather that if we had to pick a friend in Asia, India may be a more natural friend.

Now. The Telegraph has described the attacks as "aimed at Western targets". USA Today offers the headline, "Attack forces India onto front lines of global war on terror." (undoubtedly, the Indian government would be displeased with the words, but perhaps not the framing?) Meanwhile everyone is saying that these attacks were too complicated and sophisticated to have been executed by native-Indian terrorists.

Members of the European Parliament were in the hotels and undoubtedly put a more local face on the attacks in Europe, including a Muslim Tory MEP. So a Brit, a German (and one of the leading Atlanticists of the European Left), and a Pole can now be witnesses both within European institutions and within their national institutions on the importance of the relationship with India.

It seems that this attack offers an opportunity for the US and Europe to step up and engage with India. This framing could be helpful in a number of ways. They have credibility in the non-Western world that we could not match as a developing Asian state and a former colony. The attacks on the West simply do not apply to them. We have resources and assets that they cannot match. And we share similar values and see common strategic opponents.

Now is the time for Barack Obama to step up. Engage the Indians and exploit Obama's personal capital, especially with the Muslim world. Obama, Manmohan Singh, Japan, and EU leaders. There are tremendous opportunities here. Let's grab them.

By Soren Dayton, ago

Ideas: The beltway is the disease not the cure. Another way to steal from the European model

Patrick and Matt, who I both respect and count as friends, get something completely wrong. Patrick wants to install an "Ideas Czar" and a "Republican National Policy Committee":

What we need is a policy arm independent of the existing policy infrastructure on the Hill that incorporates the best of what's happening in the states, on the Hill, and in the think tanks. A Republican National Policy Committee would be tasked with crafting a larger message that's bigger than just House Republicans or Senate Republicans, but that includes both and Governors as well. An RNPC would have de-facto last word on the elusive question of what the Republican Party is for, would appoint "shadow cabinet" spokespeople to directly respond to what's happening at the departments and agencies, and have point on crafting a Contract-like Republican platform for the midterm elections. Part think tank, part messaging engine, a Republican policy committee would keep the ideas flame alive until a Presidential nominee emerged.

I think that this gets exactly wrong what we need. Washington is where ideas come to die. They get strangled by interests groups warping them for their own ends. They get strangled by bureaucracies in the parties, in the interest groups, and in government interested in the status quo.

We don't need Washington to deputize someone with the authority to have ideas on behalf of the party. Anyone who has seen the platform process up close knows that it is, for the most part, a list of shibboleths rather than a serious policy debate. Subordinating our ideas to existing power structures is just going to destroy us.

We need more people with actual ideas speaking and competing in the marketplace. If we are going to take ideas seriously -- and I agree with Jon that our institutions are not yet ready to, there might be an alternative model that we could borrow from the European centre-right, the European Ideas Network (EIN) or improve on our existing models.


EIN brings together politicians, academics, business leaders, think tankers, and interest groups to discuss the problems facing Europe. They come up with new questions, and sometimes even solutions. They compare notes on political viability. The key thing is that this is a Network not a top-down structure and, for the most part, people are allowed to engage freely with little sense of hierarchy.

There are similar models in the US. We have the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC, the conservative/Republican version of the National Council of State Legislators, NCSL), the various Governors Associations (Republican, Democratic, and National). The RGA and NGA regularly make recommendations to Congress and President that are based in actual experience running government outside of the Beltway, rather than the zero-sum game of Washington.

It is true that there are flaws in these models. The RGA and NGA are partly bodies designed for preening by future candidates for President. They tend to have people from one level of government, not multiple. The conveners have agenda of their own that they enforce via the invite list and the topics. And the conveners either are or are accountable to the donors who will, of course, have their own agendas.

So the objective should be multiple networks of conferences, donors and politicians, maybe focused on different issues. These should be tied into the conservative and main stream media. And they should make room for dissenting views, not merely the Ronald Reagan lovefest that we have come to know at conservative meetings like CPAC.

Now is the time for idea entrepreneurship, not idea centralization.

By Soren Dayton, ago

Yes, Obama’s fundraising was a big deal, but the real story is the bodies

I am bewildered that some people try to make the arguments that they do. The Campaign Finance Institute argues that, "[i]t turns out that Barack Obama's donors may not have been quite as different as we had thought."

Ummm. Except that there were 3.1m of them. And that's not a trivial difference. But it doesn't stop there.

CFI notes that there was a significant difference in people who started out small and moved into a larger donor group:

Many of the repeat donors who started off small ended up in the $201-$999 middle range. Among Obama's total pool of 403,000 disclosed donors on August 31, more than half (about 212,000) started off by giving undisclosed contributions of $200 or less. About 93,000 of these repeaters gave in cumulative amounts of no more than $400 for the full primary season. Another 106,000 repeaters ended up between $401 and $999. By comparison, Clinton and McCain each had about 100,000 donors in the entire $201-$999 middle range, and for them the number included both repeaters and one-time givers.

So what we found here is not only that there were more donors, but the Obama campaign did a better job of converting their one-time donors into repeated donors. Oh, and, by the way, they did a better job of turning thier interested observers (12 million on the mailing list) into donors (1/4 donated)

So it wasn't just a difference in mass -- although that's significant enough -- but in process.

By Soren Dayton, ago

It’s not the money; it’s the bodies

This weekend, I heard a presentation from a Republican operative and strategist who claimed that to be competitive in the 2012 Presidential race, the GOP candidate will need to raise $1 billion. I suspect that that number is a touch high, but it is not an unreasonable assumption. Let's run some numbers on that.

If you assume that the donors all came from maxed out donors and that the new limit is $2,500, that would mean that the candidate would need to find 200,000 donors. More likely, the average donation size would be much smaller and the number of donors much larger. Barack Obama had over 3.1 million donors by October, averaging about $200/donor.

Consultants, who get paid by campaigns, tend to focus on the dollars. But that's not what we should be focusing on when we look at the Obama campaign. We should be looking at the numbers of bodies. It is the size and scope of Obama's grassroots organization that is really the phenomonal innovation that could transform our politics. That, not the money, is what we need to figure out how to match.

Let's put it slightly differently. Obama got about 3m donors. He got about 6m cell phone numbers. And about 10m on his email list. Turning that around, about 1 in 3 of the people who signed up to his email list gave him money. That's earth-shattering.

I wrote a piece for Pajama's Media on technology in the 2008 race. The key point about the campaign was its decision to put the organizational focus on its grassroots:

In the end, the Obama campaign’s various technologies for fundraising, GOTV, and communications were side shows. They all derived from a much more fundamental innovation. Rolling Stone described the most important insight of the Obama campaign from one of their trainers: “We decided that we didn’t want to train volunteers. We want to train organizers — folks who can fend for themselves.”...

You can make the fundraisers a little more efficient. You can make the GOTV more efficient. You can have a better message and get it out better. These are linear improvements. But political organizations grow exponentially when you improve the organizers. That’s what the Obama campaign did. Everything was focused on making the organizer better.

In the end, either Obama's organization will be a one-off, which I wouldn't count on, or conservatives and/or Republicans are going to have to learn to match that level of organizing. But just as Obama's organization has partially transformed the Democratic Party and Dean's organization definititely did, the Republican Party will probably be transformed by a shift to a focus on grassroots. Some thoughts on how:

  1. The power of the donor class will be signficantly reduced as it shifts to the grassroots.
  2. This party would likely involve an overthrow of the current party leadership. And I don't necessarily mean at the RNC, but down at the county party level.
  3. A party with that level of grassroots activity and energy might be more ideologically broadly-based than our current party.

That would be a fundamentally different Republican Party, and one that is focused on the voters and the activists and the donors rather than the intrigue of Washington, which has been so much the focus of the party.

The third point about a somewhat different ideological composition could be important, and the Republican primary might even provide a guide. John McCain won his primary based on winning rank-and-file Republicans who were not part of the party apparatus. He campaigned to these people. In March of 2007, I was in New Hampshire on the Straight Talk Express, and McCain was speaking at veterans halls to whoever would come. Mitt Romney was speaking that same day to Lincoln Day dinners. McCain probably wasn't even invited to those dinners.

At the same time, at some state and local conventions the local parties only maintained control under the attack by Ron Paul supporters by cheating them out of their delegate spots. A more vibrant party could have handled -- and perhaps beaten -- new entrants into the process. A more vibrant party could have built a coalition with those people rather than driven them away. Healthy political parties add people because they help them win. Unhealthy ones drive people away.

So in the end, I am somewhat bored with an ideological debate about the future of the party. The real change will be if people are willing to empower a new grassroots of this party and give up power to it. If we don't it's over. If we do, there could be tremendous opportunities that start to address some of the weaknesses of our party.

By Soren Dayton, ago

Lessons from the field

I have spent the last week recovering from the disappointment of election day. I have spent a lot of time talking to the mid-level operatives from the McCain campaign. (the top level are on TV playing the recriminations games, in undisclosed locations, or drinking their brains out in Vegas)  There are things that we can learn from this election.

The first is that John McCain won the primary because of an often neglected part of the coalition: military voters. Redstate's Erick Erickson said the point well on the night of the Florida primary:

Tonight was not a failure of conservatism, but a triumph of military voters who have made their home in the Republican Party because we are the party of a strong national defense.

In both South Carolina and Florida, they won it for McCain. In the grand coalition of the GOP, we've talked about social conservatives and fiscal conservatives. We've all ignored the military voters, except John McCain. And he won them big. His message resonated.

This is not a sufficient grassroots for the GOP in a national race, but it was a powerful one in the primary. We as a party should feel and water this part of the coalition better than we have done in the past. We will likely get a generation of candidates who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan who will be powered by the volunteer work of volunteers who supported McCain. In addition, I wouldn't be surprised if this developed into a meaningful faction in GOP politics in the next couple of years.

Second, the GOP is good at managing the mechanics of GOTV. However, we are not very good at managing and empowering our grassroots. The Democrats are. Open Left's Mike Lux, now on the Obama transition team, said:

I am grateful that field organizing and working with grassroots volunteers is actually in fashion again, and in so much bigger a way than it has ever been in my lifetime.

At a time that technological and volunteer energy was at an all-time high, even on the GOP side, the RNC deployed a mythically small number of field staff, opened a mythically small number of campaign offices, and generally deprioritized grassroots. We simply didn't tap into that energy effectively. Often we failed because we were inept. Often, these were the product of intentional decisions by state parties (see below) who were afraid of new people (see above). More broadly, a whole number of volunteer engagement plans failed to materialize. I still have drafts of some of them.

Third, many of our state parties are completely dysfunctional. COMPLETELY. There have been some horror stories out of state parties that should have been able to pull their own weight but simply weren't. I won't name names yet, but it is not good. There is indeed a correlation between the states that have lost elections and the state of their parties. There are two solutions to this. Either someone needs to take them over from below or, much less preferably, they need to be fixed top-down from DC with new staff, bypassing and eventually surpassing the state parties.

Fourth, history will probably show that the mistake of squashing of the libertarian grassroots out west in the form of the Ron Paul campaign could resonate for years. Fewer activists, less money, etc. Many people will try to blame McCain and/or his campaign, but I do not believe that a single state party stood up for a significant part of their grassroots. Often, the parties were so weak that they ended up being complicit in tossing out Paul-supporting libertarians because they were afraid of new people coming in and taking over. These same parties were already in desperate places because of their inability to respond to the growing strength of latino voting blocs with outreach to bring them over. These are not the responses of healthy parties.


By Soren Dayton, ago

MN-SEN: Franken tries to steal the election again

Democrats have no shame

According to the AP, Joker Al Franken's campaign tried to add votes to their tally that had already been disqualified. Fortunately, the Hennepin County Board of Elections shot them down. From the AP:

Minnesota's largest county has declined a request from Al Franken's Senate campaign to reconsider some disqualified absentee ballots. [...] Board members said the ballots could be dealt with during the upcoming recount.
These "votes" were from people whose signatures didn't match or who were not registered or improperly registered.

Norm Coleman's campaign issued a statement that cuts to the heart of the matter:

“The Al Franken campaign today tried to stuff new ballots into the ballot box in a brazen, last minute act of desperation. We have raised concerns repeatedly about these types of tactics by the Franken campaign. Today is further evidence of their intent to use whatever means necessary to counter the decision of the people of Minnesota. We applaud the actions of the Hennepin County Canvassing Board in rejecting this blatant, desperate act.”
The "desperation" point is key. The Franken campaign is running out of ways to steal the election. So they are flailing for lame mechanisms to do so.

They are afraid.

By Soren Dayton, ago

MN-SEN: Coleman: Count the ballots cast!

Dems: Count the ballots we are still printing!

The Democrats are trying to steal a Senate seat in Minnesota. The Coleman campaign is trying to block the counting of 32 ballots because they were riding around with a Democratic election official for 3 days. Surely you can trust those right? From the AP:

The request from Coleman's campaign said Minneapolis elections director Cynthia Reichert called its office at 7:45 p.m. Friday and reported that 32 ballots had been found and would be counted the next morning.

"We were actually told they had been riding around in her car for several days, which raised all kinds of integrity questions," said Coleman's attorney, Fritz Knaak.

The integrity of our elections depends on the physical integrity of our ballots. But the loony left that doesn't mind government being a criminal enterprise when its their government is insisting that all the votes be counted. Perhaps the netroots ought to get out their printers and print out a couple thousand more absentee ballots to guarantee they can win.

H/T: Minnesota Democrats Exposed, the only decent source of information on the recount

By Soren Dayton, ago

Another ACORN Secretary of State in Minnesota will be running the Coleman-Franken recount

Last week, I wrote that the links between ACORN, Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, and the group Secretary of State Project were concerning. I asked how many other Secretaries of State were backed by ACORN.

Well. There's a recount in Minnesota that will determine whether Norm Coleman keeps his seat. And another ACORN backed, Secretary of State Project-backed candidate will be doing the recount. Let's see what they say about Ritchie.

The Secretary of State Project describes him as:

In 2006, the SoS Project helped elect one of the most progressive Secretaries of State in the nation, Mark Ritchie. How he got his start in politics? As a community organizer.

The SoS Project describes Brunner and Ritchie as their success stories. Recall that Brunner tried to throw out all of the McCain absentee ballot applications, violated federal law by sepcifically directing Ohio to turn off validity checks on registration, and encouraged county election officials to not allow Republican election officials to observe voting. In every case, courts said she was simply wrong. There is a reason that SoS Project backed Ritchie, just like they backed Brunner. Partisanship at the cost of electoral integrity.

Here's Ritchie's background. He used his government office for political gain:

Ritchie acknowledged asking a campaign volunteer to copy a list of participants in a civic engagement program through the secretary of state's office to his campaign newsletter, which included a political contribution request.

He was endorsed by ACORN.

So we have a guy who was elected by a group whose practices encourage at least voter registration fraud and make it easier to cheat in elections. He was elected by a group that is seeking to make sure that the people who count votes are partisans, and their other success story in 2006 has been shot down by the court repeatedly in her attempts to rig Ohio elections. And he misused government resources for political purposes.

This is the guy counting the votes. Who is he going to dance with? The ones that brought him? We know how they play.

Crossposted from The Next Right.

By Soren Dayton, ago