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.

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2 Comments

fredo · May 30, 2007 at 11:56 AM

Ruffini’s point about maintaining an “activated” base that would move beyond campaign cycles is an interesting one. It seems to be a more “liberal” approach to politics: where interest groups are permanently mobilized for political battle, rather than Russel Kirk conservativism, where people want to be free of ideologues to pursue their lives. But liberals are waging a full time political war, so I understand the impulse: must not the battle be joined? It’s an interesting question.

The Douhat & Salam article was a treat. Thanks for the links. I think their ideas would lay the groundwork for a long term conservative majority, although admittedly it’s unclear if it would be a Republican one (given the tension he highlights between the “base” and “entrepreneurial/elite” Republicans on a number of important issues). While it’s unlikely that the conservative majority would empower Democrats, the pro-family economic issues they outline (wage subsidies, payroll tax-offsets for children, recognition of economic value for homemakers in qualified plans and Social Security, newborn tax credits, meaningful health care reform, etc.) would have appeal to a block voters and legislators that would probably cut across current partisan boundaries. Whether that would result in a realignment, or merely a governing coalition I don’t know. At the end of the day, the primary principle of the article is that married couples are the base of the GOP, the most reliable voting block, and need to be incentivized to make a large investment in having and raising children (our nation’s most important resource). Doing so will require recognizing that returns on labor continue to languish behind returns on capital, and, while that is not intrinsically “bad,” it must be addressed if conservatives are going to have success at the ballot box.

Patrick Ruffini :: What Is and Isn’t Movement Politics · May 30, 2007 at 3:44 PM

[…] Soren Dayton sums up our discussion nicely. I find that there is not very much to add, except to reiterate the centrality of ideas in defining any new Republican coalition. The problem with the Democrats’ new movement is that nobody knows what they were elected to do. End the war in Iraq? Maybe not so much. By contrast, whenever we have come to power in a movement election, we have explicitly spelled out our ideas, even to a fault. […]

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