My Strategy Memo to the Next RNC Chair
Released yesterday to RNC members. Thought that I’d post it here despite its length:
An Open Letter to the Next RNC Chairman
As Republicans gather this week to choose their new National Committee Chairman, much of the debate has centered on the philosophical reasons for the GOP’s losses in 2006 and 2008. The same discussion that reared its head in ’64, ’74, and ’92 has made it to the front pages of publications and to the roundtable programming on all of the network and cable news shows. Ultimately, the answer will be what it has been before: that the Republican Party must be the Republican Party and stay true to its conservative ideals yet be aware that Reagan’s coalition was built upon the principle that “my 80% friend is not my 20% enemy”..
As a two time candidate for US Congress, a soldier on the front lines of the political battle, I need to concern myself with more clinical matters, however. We can do all of the philosophical maneuvering in the world and come up with all of the answers but the endpoint will do us no good if we do not revamp the actual execution. In short, even if the Republican Party “finds itself” in the next couple of weeks, we have a long way to go before we have a mechanism that works.
On a less philosophical level I can tell you that we didn’t loose because we stood for the wrong things. We lost because our system is broken. We put all of our eggs in a “fifty percent plus one” strategy at a time when the indicators told us that the other side was competing in all 50 states. I coached for many years and liken 2006 to a terrible first half. The problem was that our coaches took us into the locker room and told us to keep doing exactly what we were doing. The signs were there. We could have watched the film and realized that the other guys had a better strategy and we could have come up with a better game plan for 2008 but we stuck with what got us crushed. Now we’re crushed and demoralized and arguing amongst ourselves about how to rebuild the program.
Surely we need to take back our brand and stop allowing our opponents to decide who we are but individual campaigns have a certain formulamatic piece and we are currently lacking in that realm. We rely on a bad overall game plan and have some outdated plays. Our Voter Vault system, once the jewel in our crown as a method of voter ID and GOTV planning has become outmoded and we have been bested in the tech realm. We have the wrong players in the wrong positions and we are not able to anticipate the future because we are dwelling on our past. There are seven things that we can do right now to get back on offense and focus on the end zone again.
1) Recognize regional differences within our Party. What works in the Bible belt may not work in New England. Republicans are not “one size fits all” and the success of the Reagan coalition was that “my eighty percent friend is not my twenty percent enemy”. I’m not saying that we should abandon our conservative principles and become “Democrat Lite” but I do believe that the current national brand has expedited the decay of the Party in once solid New England. Yankee Republicans were fiscally conservative and believed that folks should be left alone to run their businesses, farm their lands and worship in their churches. They were rooted in their communities from Camden, Maine to Danbury, Connecticut and now they are gone. Different areas require different focal points in order for the Party to thrive as a whole.
2) Standardize, integrate and professionalize the RNC Regional Political Directors and NRCC/NRSC field operations. We have a tendency to write off certain states. We have a tendency to think of the RNC, NRCC, and NRSC as having separate goals. We have an understandable tendency to fill crucial positions with “rookie prospects”; promising young up-and-comers who have the energy to sustain a two hundred and fifty day travel schedule each year. The problem with that strategy is that, as talented as they may be, they have no gravitas. It is tough for a federal candidate or State Chairman to take advice and criticism from someone who has not walked in the shoes of the experienced. In order for the RNC to bring influence at the campaign level, we must populate these positions with experienced and older folks who can relate on parity with those they advise. It will cost more to get them but they are out there.
3) Create a network of regional PACs. It is hard to raise money for some races. The emotion is not there. In my own home state, the second district is represented by Jim Langevin who everyone seems to like despite his big government ideas. We fielded no candidate against him in 2006 and a likable, intelligent businessman who was grossly under funded in 2008. There was no spark to fuel the money train in that race alone but if one were raising money regionally and distributing support back through that PAC there would be more hope. Add in the names John Kerry, Patrick Kennedy and Ted Kennedy and there is potential for a stronger effort.
4) Identify and recruit candidates for 535 federal races. I’m a believer that everyone deserves an opponent. It keeps the incumbents from spending their money in support of our targeted races. Lets keep them busy and spending their money in their home districts. It is a travesty that no one was motivated to go after Henry Waxman in California. Somewhere in his district is a young energetic committed and outstanding Republican who will ascend to that seat. An organizational framework that operates at one hundred percent will find that person in their business or in their non-profit or in the hospital or on the street where they work and will develop their interest.
5) Train Candidates. It’s not enough to fill the ballots with capable folks. We need to teach them how to get the job done. A history of winning in State Assembly races does not guarantee the knowledge of how to win federal office. There is a whole new level of PACs, grassroots organizations and policy networks to access. It is not enough to rely on outside organizations to train our candidates. The RNC network should be accessed to support regional training programs which would also strengthen the possibility that we have avowed and committed small government Republicans and escape the “rat heads in the Coke bottle” who Grover Norquist is famously right in criticizing for ruining the brand. This training support process will also open up regional networking opportunities so that candidates may feed off of each others successes and learn from their failures.
6) Fund the start-up process for each and every candidate and support weaker state Party offices. It is wrong to rely on self funding millionaires to populate our candidate ranks. There are good people out there who have strong abilities and small bank accounts. Diversity can be a strength for our Party once again but it takes money to raise money and, whether I like it or not, credibility is directly proportional to the size of a candidate’s bank account. Through the regional PAC system, each and every candidate should be given a small seed donation to grease their fundraising apparatus and assess their chances.
In addition, the weakest ten or fifteen State GOP offices should be supported with enough funding to ensure that their operational expenses are covered. Simply knowing that the Executive Director and Office Manager salaries don’t have to come out of a candidate funding effort will create a better Party culture and a loyalty down the line. It’s what the opposition has done and it seems to be working for them.
7) Provide candidates with a quality supporting cast. While the restrictions on direct cash to a candidate have been curtailed by McCain-Feingold, there is opportunity to provide services. Many candidates are not grounded in a network that includes national level experts in fundraising, direct mail, polling, or media strategy even if they have been successful as state level politicians. We have the opportunity to grow those networks for the candidates by providing polling results through the regional PACs and then allowing the candidate and consultant to grow their partnership outside of the Party support system. Likewise other consulting disciplines can be introduced and even the simple act of hiring a strong campaign manager who knows how to win can be simplified. In this way, the Party structure can act as a networking organization and bring value to every candidate’s campaign.
This will be an interesting week. Some will say that the first order of business should be to chase off the RINOs. Others will say that, if we keep them around and nurture them, RINOs can grow trunks. In the end, though, no matter who our new Chairman is, and no matter what philosophy he brings to the position, in order for any candidate to enter the arena wearing a Party badge, the Party must bring the promise of “value added” to the table. That promise has always been a strong network support system but, as we have lost our principles, so too have we lost our structure. Restore that structure and restore that interwoven strength and we return the Party to its rightful place because, again, we are at heart a center right Party and this is a center right nation.