Here we are less than a week removed from an election that, quite frankly, with better tactics and a commitment to a better ground game, should have been won. One of the great frustrations was that there was a great deal of money wasted on very bad tactics. You can say whatever you want about unforeseen factors (like Obama’s handling Sandy influencing 40% of the voters in a positive way), but there were things that anyone with political sense saw coming a mile away: this was going to be a close election, it was going to come down to the ground game, and it was going to come down to 5-6 states. Period.
The advantage the Obama campaign had was that it was building its database and ground game for years, while quite frankly Romney only had roughly 6 months to do it. I’ll give the Romney campaign that one. But the RNC? The party apparatus? It had time, but clearly has not made personal voter contact a priority (and in order, it should be knock and talk at the doors of targeted voters, and then live calls. And in regards to voter contact, robo calls, door lit drops, or doing door hangers, border on the worthless).
You can make the argument that when consultants are in charge of money in a party apparatus or with candidates, they will push money into where they make money: TV ads, direct mail, etc. Grant it, especially at the Congressional level and below, there is a need for TV ads and mail. I get that, but at the Presidential level? Almost worthless, as we saw with multiple Super PACs. Now I get that people want to make a living. Perfectly normal. But you can’t tell me that some of these consultants didn’t have the sense to understand that putting even more money into TV or mail was a bad investment. Of course it was a bad investment with a commission on it, and I would say that in the Republican and conservative movements (which are two, distinctly different movements), many times the capitalistic nature of making money supersedes winning. Might be a touch cynical for me to say, but considering where the money gets pushed, I think perfectly valid point to bring up.
I understand there is no money in grassroots organizing, or in grassroots education. Trust me, I know. But it’s what wins close elections, and guess what: 2016 is not going to be any different in some ways. What we just saw happen can happen again. The GOP will probably have a semi-crowded primary in which the nominee will not be known until the spring of 2016, with again, a relatively short run-up to the elections. The elections will again come down to 5 or 6 states (Ohio, Florida, Virginia, Colorado and you choose either North Carolina, Iowa or Wisconsin), and it will again come down to the ground game.
Ultimately, this will come down to donors deciding what they want to do. Do they want to have a re-run of 2012, or commit to winning in 2016? This can be done. It’s not rocket science, but it is about focusing on building infrastructure now, in targeted states, and rejecting the shiny baubles of TV ads. It’s about going back to the fundamentals of shoe leather politics while using products like Gravity to make that work even better.