Republicans Got No Game!
Now that a good week has passed since the election, and everyone has had time to think more about what went wrong, I’d like to chip in with some of my own observations. In particular, I’d like to focus on the lack of a Republican ground game. As Chair of the Texas Young Republicans, I organized multiple deployments to help a number of candidates this election cycle, amounting to about 40,000 voter contacts throughout Texas, south Florida, and Pennsylvania. I’ve personally volunteered my time on multiple house campaigns, worked as a campaign manager for one race, and a campaign treasurer for another, and previously served as a precinct chair. I’ve seen the Republican ground game first hand, and I’m not impressed. The Republican Party has no effective ground game – at all. Just consider Ohio for one example – in the final weekend before the election, the Obama campaign had several thousand paid campaigners organized in 137 active field offices compared to 40 offices with Romney. In case you think the offices were largely empty or the workers weren’t actually doing anything, the Obama campaign claims to have knocked on over 375,000 doors in that final weekend. Despite massive deployments from The Mighty Texas Strikeforce and major volunteer pushes by the Ohio GOP and the Ohio YR’s, the Republican side managed only 70,000 door knocks that same weekend.
While the Democrats do not employ all of these people outside of the election season, they do in fact maintain a core group of people who are paid to keep the organizational infrastructure in place and ready to roll out for the next election. For example, here in Dallas, the Democratic Party is known to pay precinct chairs a commission based on specific turnout goals. The higher the turnout, the more money the precinct chairs make. Because the precinct chairs are incentivized to turn out the vote, the chairs have figured out through trial and error in a true grassroots fashion what kind of turnout techniques work and which do not for all the different demographics that make up their base.
In the age of the billion dollar presidential campaign, it’s time Republicans professionalize their party infrastructure. We should look to the mechanics of how the Democratic Party runs their Get Out the Vote program, and duplicate what they do. The national Republican Party essentially blew hundreds of millions of dollars saturating the airwaves with advertisements and the voters simply tuned out. In spite of well-known research by political science departments showing that door knocking and personal conversations are far and away more effective in turning out voters, the RNC simply refused to spend any money on blockwalking. At one point, I could have sent an additional 20 Young Republicans to spend a week campaigning for Allen West for only $5,000, but was rebuffed twice by the RNC which went ahead to spend $300 million on ineffective television advertisements. Now today Allen West is in a litigious and heated recount.
Currently, the Republican Party essentially relies on inspired volunteers to compete with an army of democratic paid operatives. While the volunteers are surely passionate in their work, there are two serious problems in relying on just volunteers. First, volunteers are working in their free time. Most simply do not have 40 or more hours a week to contribute to a campaign because they need to work, care for their families, do errands, watch college football, etc. We need more full-time paid workers who can put in 40 or more hours ever week. Second, just because someone volunteers for a task, does not mean that the volunteer is actually competent or good at the task. With paid staff on the other hand, nonperformers can be fired and replaced. Volunteers, understandably, must be treated with extreme love and care, and most campaigns wouldn’t know what to do without them. We need our volunteers, and we need to make sure we always find a place where we can use their time and talent effectively, but we need to move the bulk of the party work to paid staff.
The Republican Party State Chair should be a paid position. Republicans in Texas are extremely lucky to have someone like Steve Munisteri run our party. As the state chair, Steve Munisteri does not receive any compensation for the service he does. It is truly a full-time position that Steve Munisteri is fulfilling on a volunteer basis. However, it is beyond ridiculous for Republicans to always expect someone of Steve Munisteri’s talent and caliber to be ready and willing to lead the party when Steve is no longer around. By keeping this position unpaid, we are unnecessarily restricting our future pool of potential party leaders to only those who don’t need to work to pay the bills.
The same could be said for our county chairs. Currently, no Republican county chair is paid for their work. In small counties in West Texas, there may not be enough work to justify paying a county chair. However, most of our large metropolitan areas are blue, pose serious challenges to Republican candidates, and are made up of thousands of separate precincts. They all require full time attention. Right now, we basically elect a county chair, who then has to hire an executive director to do much of the work he was elected to do, because the chair himself has to keep his day job to put food on the table. This is no way to run a party.
However, the Democratic ground game consists of more than just a well-tuned Get Out the Vote machine – it also includes a vast arrary of non-profits made up of 501(c)4’s, (c)3’s, and 527’s. If you want to understand how the Democrats control the narrative in this country, you need to read “The Blueprint: How the Democrats Won Colorado” by Adam Shrager. Instead of waiting until election season and throwing a bunch of money at ad buys, wealthy Democratic donors fund hundreds of small non-profits. Maybe some are “fact-checkers”, others advocate for the environment, some for needy families, still more for increasing public school funding, and so on. For every democratic cause, there are multiple nonprofits staffed and ready to go. These nonprofits drown out the conservative message. When a bill comes up in a state legislature that the liberals would hate, the nonprofits pile on. The result is a cacophony of press releases, demonstrations, media events, and speeches, and the cumulative effect of all these groups drowns out the conservative message and sways public opinion towards the liberal politics. Moreover, it doesn’t take a lot of money to fund these nonprofits – they’re essentially nothing more than two or three people making 25k or 30k a year with a fancy website and a small office. In Colorado, just four millionaires are credited with starting a dozen or so nonprofits that worked together to flip the state blue in 2008.
On the Republican side, there is nothing like this. Besides American Majority, Americans for Prosperity, and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, there are basically no other conservative non-profits with offices in Texas. As chair of the Texas Young Republicans, I’m often approached by young, talented conservatives who would be willing to take a pay cut in what they could get in the private sector if they could just work in politics. We’re talking about people with proven track records and accomplishments in law, media relations, advertising, social media, programming, and business. Because Republican donors have failed to fund conservative non-profits, we leave some of our most talented advocates on the sidelines – people willing to help, but with no avenue to put their talents to work. The cacophony of liberal non-profit groups goes unanswered in the public square. We have to find a way to persuade the Harold Simmons’, the Bob Perry’s, and Koch Brothers of the world to pony up money to fund these sorts of nonprofits. We need a lot more groups like Americans for Prosperity or the Texas Public Policy Foundation.