If you spend your time watching politics and haven’t been hiding in a deep depression since Tuesday, you’ve probably been hearing a lot about “ORCA.” According to the Washington Post, ORCA “was designed as a first-of-its-kind tool to employ smartphones to mobilize voters, allowing them to microtarget which of their supporters had gone to the polls.”
There is now widespread condemnation of the program as being sloppy and poorly deployed.
John Ekdahl at Ace of Spades wrote:
What is Project Orca? Well, this is what they told us:
Project ORCA is a massive undertaking – the Republican Party’s newest, unprecedented and most technologically advanced plan to win the 2012 presidential election.
Pretty much everything in that sentence is false. The “massive undertaking” is true, however. It would take a lot of planning, training and coordination to be done successfully (oh, we’ll get to that in a second). This wasn’t really the GOP’s effort, it was Team Romney’s. And perhaps “unprecedented” would fit if we’re discussing failure.
So what caused the breakdown and why didn’t it get fixed in time? Well according to sources who worked closely with the program, the blame is at the feet of consultants.
Specifically Targeted Victory, FLS Connect, and The Stevens and Schriefer Group. While the Romney campaign did work with other consultants, they were apparently not part of the problem.
They say that the truth is the consultants essentially used the Romney campaign as a money making scheme, forcing employees to spin false data as truth in order to paint a rosy picture of a successful campaign as a form of job security.
Zac Moffatt, Digital Director for the Romney campaign, was specifically named as having “built a nest egg for himself and co-founder of Targeted Victory, Mike Beach,” and that they “didn’t get social” media and ignored objections from other consultants and staffers in the campaign.
Moffatt responded to the criticisms in the Washington Post recently saying:
“I understand the frustrations over interruptions with so many people engaged,” Moffatt said. “But I have real numbers.”
“I’m very surprised, as digital guy, about the pushback people are getting” over Orca, Moffatt said. “This didn’t materially change the course of the election.”
People close to the campaign responded. “Anyone can have numbers, Neil Newhouse had numbers. Look where that got us. Zac just went off the rails a lot and made the Romney campaign a marketing vehicle for himself.” Adding, “at least the other consultants kept their mouths shut.”
Sources also said that arrogance played a big role, saying that the Romney campaign was a hostile battlefield of egos in which these consultants viewed any opposition to their world view as coming from an enemy. This apparently led to the ORCA program “receiving no stress test, no usage during super saturdays and no ability to have a Plan B or C when everything hit the fan.”
“The brain trust of the Romney campaign was so arrogant that they refused to change strategy. It was clear in June were SOL,” said one email.
Another source that closely studied the Obama campaigns GOTV efforts as compared to ORCA said bluntly that “the Obama training manuals made ORCA look like a drunken monkey slapped together a powerpoint” adding that we must duplicate and improve what they accomplished to have any hope for the 2014 & 2016 ground game.
But the failures in what was described as a “tightly wound consultant culture” didn’t stop there.
Stu Stevens of the Stevens and Schriefer Group was said to not be chasing poll numbers with the media buy strategy and appeared instead to be doing little more than “throwing darts at a dartboard.” At best using false numbers provided by ORCA; at worst milking the cash cow of the Romney campaign.
Most of the more public players, like Andrea Saul and Gail Gitcho, were doing their jobs as adequately as possible given that the apparently the poll numbers, ground operations & virtually all statistics and data involved with GOTV efforts were inaccurate. However, players like Richard Beeson, Romney’s Political Director, are said to have spent the first half of the year “traveling state to state settling scores” instead of doing crucial campaign preparation.
According to all the sources I spoke to, the breakdown of the campaign can be traced to the primaries. One source saying “they looked at the guy who could raise the most money in history as a ride” adding that “money no longer matters. That’s the problem,” also referring to the campaign overall as “the biggest political flim flam of all time.”
The result of all of these false numbers and inaccurate ground reports is simple: Mitt Romney was ill-prepared for the actual numbers on election day and his false sense of confidence directly translated into how the campaign operated in the closing weeks. In the words of one source, it was a con job. As David Mamet famously said, “If you’re in the con game and you don’t know who the mark is … you’re the mark.” Mitt Romney had no idea what was coming.