The next project: The Next Right

Well, a lot has happened since the last time I posted here. I joined John McCain’s campaign. I left John McCain’s campaign. I joined my friend Jon Henke at New Media Strategies, a great New Media PR firm.

Jon and I will be joining Patrick Ruffini on a new project, The Next Right. I think that all of us have slightly different views of the project. But here’s where I am coming from.

My sense is that our politics, the conservative movement, and the Republican Party is at a transitional point. Mike Huckabee’s campaign was basically correct that the Reagan coalition was over. Patrick had noticed that Bush had run in 2000 on a somewhat different agenda than Reagan’s, so this is not that surprising a statement … unless you are operating in the intellectually atrophied confines of the Beltway. Conservative interest groups have become profoundly transactional and trivial in scope. In any case, the Republican Party needs to change. Some of these demands are generational. Some of it is the catastrophe of the old business model. Some of it is demographic, although Barack Obama and his version of liberalism seem determined to give us an assist in the fall.

The upshot is that Patrick, Jon, and I will be exploring these ideas and where we go from here. I think that we have somewhat different views of what exactly this means. There will be some focus on technology. Some of this is inevitable because of who we are and what we do. Some of this is because when you organize a new movement, you use the tools that you have. The urban machines did it with the precinct structure. We did it with direct mail. And the RNC has found efficiencies in the GOTV process that are hard to comprehend.

I hope that you join us at The Next Right as we work out some of the questions and hopefully shape the next Republican majority. I also have some other political projects that are in the ideas stage. Expect to hear more about these.

I will also continue blogging at Redstate for more activist-oriented political things and a variety of things of personal interest at sorendayton.com, where this is crossposted. Please read them all and stay in touch!

Did McCain win the battle of the “bitch”?

So, there was a three-ish day media frenzy on this. The video on YouTube has been watched almost 1m times. It was rebroadcast hundreds of times. Whoopi Goldberg defended John McCain on The View to a bunch of liberal women.

CNN rebroadcast the exchange repeatedly, as they tried to smear him. Including John McCain saying that he was beating Hillary in the polls.

Isn’t that a win?

Oh, and AOL viewers thought that John McCain handled it well by a 2-1 margin.

And, on a side note, for the guys wondering about where the eyeballs are on the internet, I thought this, from the YouTube page was a compelling statistic:

Nuff said? AOL had 40x the next source of eyeballs. Doesn’t that mean something?

What is the Paul bomb?

The Ron Paul money bomb is amazing. On a certain level though, it makes a lot of sense.  I’m about to make a totally obvious point:

Ron Paul’s support is a protest vote.

There are a lot of Republicans right now who are really angry. Republicans are furious with their party.  In 2004, Dems were furious with theirs. A lot of them still are, but they are still in shell-shock after winning the 2006 elections. They don’t realize how much of a bill of goods they were sold. And beating Republicans is still important to them.

Here’s a hypothesis, but a difficult one to test. To some extent, Ron Paul supporters support him because he is a variety of the "Republican wing of the Republican Party". People who hate the war can support Ron Paul. People who hate the spending can support Ron Paul. Those are the primary places where the GOP is losing its base right now. And the part of the base that is leaving right now are the ones who are rich and online. Just like some of the Deaniacs. And the college kids look the same too.

They don’t give the money because they really like Paul. They are just more angry at the party than they know what to do with. In the end, they may be "dated Dean, married Kerry" sorts. They may vote for Paul. They may just force the party to pay attention to them.

And some of them are just racist, bigoted, neanderthals.

But there’s something legit here. And today, the Paul guys got our attention. Good for them.

Righty blogs: Activism versus media management

Jon Henke, currently with the Fred Thompson campaign and previously with Senator Mitch McConnell and former Senator George Allen, weighed in on the discussion about the role of righty-blogs. He said:

I think these compositional sociological explanations for the differences between Left and Right in the blogosphere and activist communities are over-complicated and unnecessary. The dominance of the Left online is not a permanent phenomenon. It is a reflection of the cyclical fact that the Left is angry, unified, surging and being effectively supported by people and organizations with long term strategic goals. They have a common cause, a unifying vision and a raison d’etre.

The Right does not.

I am pretty sure that Jon and I agree on all of this, but I want to clarify something. The sociological explanation is about activism. The structure is about managing the media. One is, in the end, a project of giving activists the tools to express their ideas, passions, etc. The other is, to some extent, a mechanical framing and outreach. Let’s look at some examples.

The Center for American Progress has a daily email. The audience for this email is Hill staffers, the press, and bloggers. It has a main article. And it has a little blog summary. The links are to a Media Matters blog (Glenn Greenwald), Think Progress, TPM Muckraker, (the 3 wings of the lefty online messaging apparatus) and a defeatist blog on Iraq.

I don’t know what the distribution is on this, but we do know that CAP is targeting the media. So they are driving media eyeballs to these blogs, raising their profile among the people who have the power to reproduce the message. And, even if they don’t actually reproduce this message, the persistent framing will have some impact.

Imagine if the right had a similar thing. A daily email with the top-line message from the right. It would contain links to milblogs that actually explain what is going on on the ground in Iraq. Explanations of the good things that the Bush administration is doing. Links to good information on the Democrats’ current legislative proposals, like a $3.5b tax increase. Links to corrupt things that Democrats are doing around the country. All in one place. And easy for the media — and bloggers — to consume. Over a year or so, this would totally reshape the blogosphere. And, frankly, this might facilitate the growth of new blogs that are more media savvy.

And we would have a separate set of emails for activists of different varieties. Probably a little more shrill. A little more closely targeted to interest groups, etc. Redstate is working on that second one. Some of the groups like AFP, FRC, RTL, etc., could also do this.

But no one is working on the first one. Heritage could, perhaps, but its focus is, legitimately, on the Hill. Rob Bluey is one person, not the 5 or 10 that it would take to implement this on a daily basis. And — this is where I say something controversial — perhaps Heritage represents the old coalition, headed by Ed Meese and a bunch of Reagan era people and grounded in the conservative movement of the 70s.

This wouldn’t take a lot of money. It wouldn’t take that many staff, but it would take smart people. And willing donors.

The infrastructure of the new political message machine

This post has two real online stimuli and a bunch of offline ones, although it is not clearly apropos of any:

The broader point that I am going to try to make is that the political blogosphere is in profound flux, and the constants have more to do with the information that it processes and exposes than the people who are doing it. This is part 1 of 2. The second post will be about the changing political blogosphere.

My point is about how campaigns and interest groups inject information into the political debate. And where the people are. I took this to be the discussion that Patrick was really working on. Patrick said:

The new progressive movement started with guys like Atrios, who then got picked up by Media Matters. Dozens of lefty bloggers are employed by the new lefty infrastructure. As far as I know, Erick Erickson at Red State, and possibly my Townhall co-bloggers MKH and Matt Lewis, are the only ones employed full time by the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy, Blog Division, who aren’t primarily journalists and as such have real freedom of action.

Now, Stoller objects:

Finally, it’s important to realize that there’s been almost no investment in the liberal blogs, which is dramatically different than what has gone on with the right side of the web, where Regnery Publishing literally bought Redstate, Republicans have been feeding Drudge tidbits since 1997, fellowships for people like the Powerline guys are the norm, and even the military is intensely cooperative.  While peripheral groups like the Center for American Progress, Media Matters, and Moveon do deploy capital, actual activists have almost zero support either institutionally or financially.

I side with Patrick on this. A bunch of leading lefty bloggers have been picked up by the ideological media and interest groups. Ezra Klein to the Prospect,  Kevin Drum to the Washington Monthly, Oliver Willis and Duncan Black to Media Matters, Glenn Greenwald to Salon, and Think Progress is a "project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund" (the website even says "Faiz Shakir is the Research Director at the Center for American Progress and serves as Editor of ThinkProgress.org"), etc. (interestingly, The Atlantic has tried the same, with Matt Yglesias and Andrew Sullivan, but none of their "righty" bloggers are really part of the righty blogosphere)

On the right, there has been some of this, but less. Redstate is owned by Eagle and Townhall by Salem. Robert Bluey is now at Heritage, where part of his job — I think — is to inject more Heritage information into the blogosphere. Are there any other major examples? (Ed Morrissey to Blog Talk Radio seems related but I don’t know how to parse)

So let’s be clear what has happened. Media Matters and CAP were started — to explicitly critique and shape the mainstream media — and hired a bunch of good bloggers … to blog, often with MM and CAP talking points. They are distribution mechanisms. Some of the lefty media has also hired good bloggers … to blog. The only person who I can think of who has gone from blogging to the righty media is Dean Barnett, and he no longer blogs.

On a broader level, what has happened is that a certain component of the research departments of the DNC has been outsourced to CAP, MM, and TPM and they have created distribution channels to move that information. The RNC and our campaigns have to worry about "no fingerprints" when they move negative material. The entire distribution mechanism on the left is built around this problem. These groups can also attack the the White House. Let’s be clear. The DNC the congressional Democrats don’t have to worry about fighting back against the White House. CAP, MM, and the blogs do that for them. There is no similar capacity on our side.

I want to step into history for a moment. Similar things have been done in the past on the GOP side. In 1982, the Washington Times was started to, in part, get the Reagan message out. Heritage helped give analytic firepower to a GOP congressional minority. One of the great untold stories of the Gingrich Revolution is the relationship between Heritage and the GOP congressional majority. Prior to 1994, congressional committee staff ratios were sometimes as high as 10-1 in favor of the Dems. (now they are about 2-1, in favor of the majority, with a couple of exceptions) Heritage allowed congressional Republicans to have the analytic capacity to fight back. When the GOP took over in 94, they slashed staff levels. In many cases, the Democratic committee staff fell by over 100 people. And we still had Heritage, while the Dems had no analytic capacity. But they had the administration which can crunch its own numbers and do its own credible analysis.

Two other interesting side effects of the role of Heritage. The first is that Heritage supports the Republican Study Committee and the Senate Republican Steering Committee, the two conservative caucuses. One, of several, reasons that the congressional GOP moderates lose so many fights is that they are opposed by significant analytic capacity. The second is that  Hill staffers can download talking points and give them to their boss. This means that GOP Hill staffers tend to be — and can be — more politically-oriented and less policy-oriented. That is one source of GOP message discipline.

It wasn’t until the Dems lost the White House and the Congress, that they realized that they needed organizations like CAP. And CAP, unlike Heritage, focuses on the media.

Stepping back from history, into today, conseratives and Republicans have not built the message distribution mechanism. On today’s memeorandum leaderboard, ThinkProgress is #6. It is a thinktank. If you combine the results for TPM, TPM Muckraker, and the Horse’s Mouth, they are almost tied with ThinkProgress. Information is produced by those guys.  Combining the two of those, only NYT and WaPo initiate more stories. And all of those are framed, very, very effectively, by bloggers who work for Media Matters.

Now, conservatives have alternative media outlets that can move our message, when we have them. Rush, Fox, etc. But those don’t drive news, they drive opinion, and you need both. Blogs are important because they drive news. Therefore, it is clear that we need a mechanism to drive the news cycle. Some of that will be informal coordination. Some of that will be a mechanism similar to CAP, MM, and TPM.

We have done this before, but only when out of power. It will develop. But it sure would be handy to have before then. It strikes me that there should be plenty of soft money willing to demonstrate that Hillary Clinton is a crook or that the corruption of congressional Democrats makes John Doolittle and Jack Abramoff blush. But the guys with the cash are sitting happy because their guys are, for now, in power.

Blogs, communication, and demographics

An important discussion is emerging on the role of social conservatives in the righty-blogosphere. Joe Carter, who organized the blogger row at FRC’s Values Voters summit, had this to say about the experience:

Anyone who wonders why the audience for the right-side of the blogosphere is stagnant at an estimated 200,000 readers should look at the supply and demand curve. The right side of the blogosphere continuously focuses on secondary issues and ignores the primary concerns of American conservatives.

I talked to the bloggers on the panel, many of whom are the same bloggers I read daily and interact with here in DC. Then I talked to the people from the audience, most of whom are not political junkies. The differences in the discussions was eye-opening. The top four issues that voters said were important to them are "life" (e.g., abortion, euthanasia, embryo destructive research, etc.), marriage, tax cuts, and permanent tax relief for families. Aside from tax cuts, these issues are rarely talked about by the bloggers on the Right. Three out of four issues are ignored–and this is just the top of the list.

The stark contrast between the heartland conservatives and the DC-centric bloggers became apparent in the panel discussion I moderated on Political Blogging. Although most of the panel members could be classified as moderately social conservative, few of them focus primarily on social conservative issues.

Several things strike me here. First, and in my own experience, I started blogging to impact politics, not discuss the issues of the day. The metric that I have used in doing that has not been "readers" it has been the more amorphous concept of "quality readers". And I am quite pleased with my results. In the same way, Redstate has an objective: to discuss the right side of Capitol Hill. Let’s be clear. These are elite projects. They try to move members of Congress and the media.

Second, the demographics. On a broader level, this suggests something. At least for now, the blogs are an elite project, meaning that the people who read and write them look like the elites in America. They are mostly white, mostly upper-middle class, etc. You could see this on the left when you got the angst over YearlyKos looking lily-white. Where are the black people? The union members? (the real union members, like the guys who threatened to beat me up at a polling place in Philly. Not the Orange County, Dupage County, Montgomery County, Cherry Hill, Bergen County, Greenwich, Fairfax County rich kids who are union members out of solidarity) The fact that this demographic — the modern version of the Eastern Establishment that Nixon so hated — has moved into the Democratic Party in such as big way is why there is a critical mass for a movement on the online left.

On the right, you get the libertarians because that’s the politics of the righty-voting, upper-middle class, whites who read blogs. (not in total, but "on the average") This demographic is shrinking on the right, but it is the group of people that talk the language of the media. I was at a recent panel, not at FRC, where as Republican asked a reporter why the reporter didn’t write about the conservative perspective on the S-CHIP bill. The reporter responded that he never heard that perspective. His friends were almost all liberal and they talked about the lefty argument. He had a couple of libertarian friends who told him the libertarian argument. No one ever told him the conservative-populist argument. The blogs are, in some ways, a microcosm of that. To Joe’s broader point above, I would point out that the number of conservative Evangelicals in the MSM is quite small. A number of them write at the great blog, Get Religion.

Third, on the right, blogs have become an important part of mediating between the mainstream media, the ideological media — talk radio and Fox –, the interest groups, etc. On the left, they don’t really have an important ideological media, they just have the MSM, which does lean their way, for the reasons discussed above. That is, on the right, blogs serve a role in an overall communications strategy that is unique and valuable, but they are just a part next to Rush, et al. DailyKos is trying to be Fox, talk radio, and the righty blogs, all at once. They are winning online, but that is only because the people that look fetishize online.

So let’s talk about activism for a moment. The lefty blogs work as an activism tool because it is the primary communications mechanism for a bloc of voters. It has calls to actions, etc. The unions do that through a variety of mechanisms, but the one that was clearest to me growing up in Chicago was the bulletin board in all union shops. Near election day, these things were plastered with things like "Teamsters for Kerry-Edwards" or whatever. I don’t really understand how it works for African-Americans and Latinos. The anecdotal evidence that Obama raises a lot of money from rich African-Americans by email is important.

On the right, the calls to action seem to come out of talk radio, etc. They also are driven by email. All of the email lists are much older, much more socially conservative, etc. Again, a totally different demographic. Today, Redstate announced a great experiment. We will be sending regular call-to-action emails out to readers of Redstate and (perhaps) other people. See if we can start to tie these together. I think that this will depend on reaching into the older activist crowd.

Finally, I want to point out that there is no reason for things to stay the way that they are.

First,  on the issue of the changing demographics of, at least, American Protestantism, and of American elites. I would argue that it is a unique feature of the current Great Awakening that significant numbers of upper-middle class Americans are keeping their Evangelical beliefs and practices. In earlier times in American history, people would assimilate, in part, by becoming Presbyterians or even Episcopalians. The suburban mega-church is a new, new thing. I mean, Rick Warren is setting the tone for American Protestantism from … Orange County? It is a new chapter in the history of innovation in American Protestantism.  In some sense, I might even argue that one of the successes of the conservative movement and the religious right is that it has started to really make space for openly evangelical Christians in the American elite class. The New York Times had a recent story of the transformation of the Harvard Intervarsity Fellowship into a nearly completely Asian-American organization. At the same time, Ken Starr, one of the leaders of the conservative legal community, is trying to turn his denominational law school (which is itself a new thing) into a leading law school in America. If you are not stunned by this, it is probably because you aren’t paying attention.

Now, all is not roses for the conservative movement here because, while this crowd is more wealthy, it does not necessarily share all of the conservative movement’s values. You just have to read a little Cizek, Gerson, or Warren to know what I am talking about. The leftward shift of the evangelical community on a range of issues has really started to transform the American right on things like foreign aid, immigration (although not nearly enough yet for my taste), and the environment.

Second, Redstate’s innovation should have some impact. In general, righty (and non-political) blogs have been the most successful when they work as a cross-over into other media. If blogs end up driving activism through email, then online righty activism will be at least as powerful as online lefty activism. In part because we will have figured out how to combine all the parts of our coalition online, something that the left has struggled with.

And, third, technology will take its toll on this. Ultimately, more and more activity of all sorts will move online. This is simply an economic fact, given the low transaction costs, etc. Although much will remain in email (private online communications) versus blogs (public online communications).

So to return to Joe’s point. While his criticism is interesting and telling, I am not sure if it is fair. On a certain level, he is asking people to be who he wants them to be, not who they are. Over time, I think that he will get what he wants. It might happen because he organizes it. It might happen because, in the end, demographics are on his side. Although, perhaps not his exactly. The demographic shift is not going to "Focus" on the family, in the sense of the name of Dobson’s organization and his letter to the National Association of Evangelicals urging them not to include global warming and torture in their stable of issues.

Hillary’s pork: Crowdsourcing project for the GOP

Yesterday, Kevin Hassett, an economist at AEI and a member of John McCain’s economics team, pointed out something that we forget. Hillary Clinton is a big ole porker:

Democrats have been so busy preparing the coronation of Hillary Clinton that they have failed to train a critical eye on her record.

When it comes to earmarks, an issue that voters responded to more than any other in the last election except for Iraq, her record is about as bad as it gets. If Dennis Hastert was the king of earmarks, Hillary Clinton was his queen. Republicans had their “bridge to nowhere.” Hillary has her knitting mill. …

The Clinton campaign refused to respond at all to requests that she identify her earmarks.

Here’s a project for diligent GOP and conservative activists:

  1. Identify the pork projects. How much taxpayer money does she spend on ridiculous things?
  2. Identify how the projects are being used politically. Which of her donors or allies are making money off of the projects?

We have the time to do the research. And the press believes that the Clintons are crooks. This will just be another fact after Norman Hsu, etc. If we get the facts, I think that these facts will get told on more than Fox.

Republican Communicators Association

One of the things that Republicans have done better than Democrats is staff organizations on the Hill. One of my favorite from being on the Hill is the Republican Communicators Association. Every blogger in Washington should come. And, furthermore, the bloggers can share ideas with staffers, and, perhaps we can become more effective.

Here’s the next event. I encourage all righty bloggers in DC to go. However if you do go, please remember to RSVP. Also, the guys that run RCA asked me to point out that these are off the record.

RCA Luncheon with the Wall Street Journal


Friday, October 12, 2007

12:00 P.M.-1:00 P.M.

Location: H-137, The Capitol

Lunch will be served (Chick-fil-A).

RSVP: RCA@mail.house.gov

 
This event is free for RCA members
and $5 for non-members

Building state blogs: Maine

I harp on the need to build a network of blogs in the states.

One just popped up in Maine. Allen vs. Collins. Hopefully they will also cover state legislative races and the open-seat that Tom Allen left.

Susan Collins should be able to put this state away. Her opponent, Tom Allen, is currently down in his own district, and Collins’ record matches the state well. Hopefully Allen vs. Collins can help them.