The Conservative Movement Needs an Amazon.com for What’s Next.
We’ve Built It.
If President Obama inherited the way unemployment was measured from the Bush Administration, the unemployment rate today would be reported as almost 15% instead of under 8%. Gas prices have broken $5 per gallon. Our economy has grown at an anemic rate of under 2% over the last 4 years.
I am confident that Mitt Romney will win in November. I don’t believe that there are over 100 million Americans who are going to ask for more of this on Election Day. Americans know that we deserve better that what we’ve been getting for the last 4 years. No Obamaphone – or any other phone, for that matter – has ever been invented that is worth trading for our standard of living.
That said, Republicans must be prepared for the relentless broadside by Democrats and the media that will begin the day after Election Day.
What do I mean by “relentless broadside”?
Think back to the 2000 Election and the first 9 months of the Bush Administration: “Illegitimate!” “Selected, not elected!” Think back a little further to when Republicans took control of Congress in 1995: “They’re coming for the sick! They’re coming for the poor!” “They want to take the school lunch program away from our kids and force families on food stamps to eat dog food!”
After November, expect to fondly remember those times as “the good old days.”
The political narrative will be the most significant obstacle to how a President Romney and Republicans in Congress govern. The only way the GOP will be able to overcome it is to know their market.
This is not a piece about what Republicans need to do to respond to the political narrative written by Democrats and the mainstream media. I am writing this piece to explain what you and I can do to make sure that the political narrative of the Left ultimately becomes irrelevant by making sure that Republicans “know their market.”.
My company has launched a new political fundraising platform called VoteRight to be the equivalent of Amazon for Republicans. We developed VoteRight based on the idea of a market-based model that focuses on the grassroots so that our leaders in Washington always have their finger on the pulse of voters back home.
VoteRight makes it possible for grassroots voters to:
- Raise more money for Republican candidates and causes.
- Make Republicans more competitive across the country, especially in blue states.
- Advance conservative principles in Washington DC.
Politics is a Market
As conservatives, we believe in free-market economics. We believe that market-based policies are the best policies to solve the problems facing the country. The Republican Party is the party of free-market economics. If Republicans want to become the dominant political force in the 21st century, it is time for us to practice what we preach. For our party to succeed, we need to adopt a market-based political model.
Politics is not unlike the stock market or the commodities market. Politics is the marketplace for ideas about the future of our country. As in any other market, there are buyers and sellers. Politicians offer their solutions to our country’s present problems as well as their vision for the future of the country. Each election day, voters “buy” the best vision for the future from the sellers on the ballot.
The media reports on politics the same way they cover developments in financial markets. Each morning, the news begins the day with the latest poll results and approval numbers. Poll numbers run across the bottom of cable news shows like stock tickers on financial news channels. Legislative developments are covered more in terms of the political horse race than for their substantive content. There’s even a derivatives market. If you go to Intrade you can write contracts on election results that are priced based upon the likelihood of those results.
In this political market, people respond to events the same way that investors respond in the market – they go online and donate to a candidate when that candidate says something they agree with or does something they like. Donors contributed $12 million to Mitt Romney in the two days following his superb debate performance. Within 24 hours of the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare, over 40,000 individual donors mobilized to donate $4.3 million to Mitt Romney’s campaign. Within 48 hours of Mitt Romney’s announcement of Paul Ryan as his VP choice, 70,000 donors contributed $5 million online.
Political Realities Explained in Market Terms
If we take a step back and apply market principles to politics, a number of political paradoxes are actually easy to explain. Let’s look at a few quick examples:
Sellers that sell quality products succeed in the market. Once a seller abandons quality, buyers disappear because customers do not like to be taken for granted.
In politics, campaigns often reach out to new voters by ignoring or running against elements of their political base. That these campaigns fail miserably should surprise nobody. The notion that “the base has nowhere else to go” is destructive because it does not address the fact that voters are not obligated to “go” anywhere. Making a campaign a choice between the lesser of two evils is a fatally flawed strategy because it ignores the fact voters always have the option to stay home. Customers do not like to be taken for granted.
Sellers succeed by growing the market of potential buyers. In politics, this creates a perverse incentive to maximize the number of voters who have problems that need to be solved. Actually solving these problems, however, only shrinks the market of voters available to politicians. In this context:
- it is easy to see why Democrats have had a decent amount of success running essentially the same campaign in every election since 1932.
- it makes sense to declare war on poverty and then enact policies that systematically destroy families to increase the number of people living in poverty.
- it makes sense for the “party of civil rights” to constantly threaten to shut down the government whenever Congress considers refusing to grant federal funds to support organizations founded for the express purpose of aborting minorities out of existence.
Market Distortions in Politics: The “Political Narrative”
Another common characteristic of markets is the existence of gaps in information and other distortions that can hinder the public’s understanding of the realities inherent in that market. Insider trading and investments through shell companies are two examples of such market distortions.
In politics, market distortions appear in the media in the form of the “political narrative”. The political narrative is constructed each day using op-ed pages in newspapers that less and less people read and public opinion polls that are often decided as much by how a question is asked as by how it is answered. Needless to say, the political narrative is written for the benefit of Democrats and to the detriment of Republicans.
Other market indicators can counter or at least clarify these distortions. Fundraising data often tells a very different story than polling data collected over the same period. The Republican base, for example, often rallies to support candidates on our side that are taking heat in the press and in public opinion polls.
When Congressman Joe Wilson shouted “You lie!” during President Obama’s address to a joint session of Congress in 2009, he was immediately excoriated in the press and criticized by Republicans in the House and the Senate. He was formally rebuked by the House and he eventually apologized for the outburst.
In the nine days following his outburst, Joe Wilson received more contributions to his campaign than he had in the previous nine months of that year. This money did not come from mega donors, this money came from thousands of Americans donating small amounts of money. While the media and congressional leaders of both parties climbed over each other in a race to denounce Wilson’s actions as wrong, the base had concluded he was right.
Unfortunately, the political narrative is the dominant influence on too many politicians. They accept the political narrative and try to conform to it. They repeat it in interviews and communicate to us, the voters, within the context of this narrative.
The rise of the Tea Party has not changed this.
The historic repudiation of the left in the 2010 elections has not changed this.
In fact, the dissonance between the 2010 election and the 112th Congress can best be explained as the result of market distortions. In 2010, voters elected 70 more Republicans to Congress than they had in 2008 and gave them the mandate to stop President Obama’s agenda cold. The daily political narrative after the election, however, was “Americans oppose Republican obstructionism.” What followed was the 112th Congress.
The Political Narrative After Election Day
What will the daily political narrative be after Election Day?
After President Obama won the 2008 election, the political narrative was “The people have spoken. Elections have consequences.” Cabinet nominees were confirmed without scrutiny, new “czars” were appointed without controversy and Congress passed the Stimulus Bill to give President Obama $1 trillion to spend with practically no oversight.
If Governor Romney wins in November, does anyone seriously expect Democrats to accept that “the people have spoken” and “elections have consequences”? Of course not. Not that it matters, because that won’t be the narrative after a Romney win.
If Mitt Romney wins the election, the political narrative will be: “President Romney won the election because voters punished President Obama for the economy’s slow response to his visionary recovery program. The election was not a mandate to enact the right-wing agenda President Romney articulated during the campaign. Democrats in Congress must do everything they can to obstruct President Romney’s radical right-wing agenda.” If Republicans take the Senate, expect 60 votes to be the new normal for getting anything done.
Of course, if Governor Romney loses, the political narrative will be much more straightforward: “Romney lost because he ran too far to the right. Americans oppose conservative policies. Republicans in Congress: Act accordingly.”
How Will Republicans Respond?
The political narrative is a catch-22 for Republicans. If they win, the narrative will be that they don’t have a mandate to enact their policies. If they lose, the narrative will be that there’s no legitimate basis to oppose Democrat policies.
Republicans need a way to deal with the political narrative.
We can’t change it because there’s not enough time. The political narrative won’t change until the people who write it change, and the degree of cultural change we would need to achieve within the mainstream media just to get back to neutral would take at least a generation.
We can’t counter it because the alternative media is not enough. It’s not that these institutions are ineffective – we know that they are. Fox News and talk radio are more commercially successful than their mainstream media counterparts. (Another fact supporting that politics is a market!) The alternative media can’t counter the political narrative for two basic reasons: (1) they are ignored by those who write it and (2) their audience is written off by policy makers as a subset of a subset of Republicans.
What we can do, however, is make the political narrative irrelevant. How? By seizing the opportunity created by the disconnect between how the political narrative is written and how people respond to political developments. In other words, by adopting a market-based political model.
A Market-Based Political Model Renders the Political Narrative Irrelevant
What is a market-based model?
A market-based model focuses on grassroots donors to Republican candidates and causes as they are reacting to political events and measures where these donors stand on various issues in real time.
With a market-based model, Republicans and conservatives can make an end run around false political narratives by creating the means through which representatives and candidates can communicate with their constituents in a simple, clear and comparable way, each and every day, at any point in the election cycle.
The Supreme Court consistently rules that donations made by individuals to candidates’ campaigns are core political speech protected by the First Amendment. Politicians who disagree try to figure out how they can regulate it.
Doesn’t it make more sense to try to figure out what these donors are saying?
Go back to the example of the 70,000 donors who donated to Mitt Romney online after announcing Paul Ryan as his running mate. It is probably safe to infer that the vast majority of those donors agree with Rep. Ryan on entitlement reform and that they probably support some form of the Ryan Budget. Why can’t we know more than that? Moreover, why should the leaders of our party have to make inferences?
What if we could also know where each and every one of those 70,000 donors stood on taxes, immigration, healthcare, social issues, and measures to revive the economy? What if those 70,000 donors were able to tell us where they stood on all of those issues within 5 minutes of making their donations to the campaign? If Republicans adopt a market-based political model, all of this would be possible.
With a market-based political model, we can build, elect and grow an enduring conservative majority that is ready, willing and able to enact the policies and reforms that are necessary to address the challenges facing our country.
An Amazon.com for Conservative Politics
How do we adopt a market-based model for politics?
A market-based model must be adopted at the grassroots fundraising level and must be able to measure the opinions of donors as they contribute to a campaign.
Republicans need a universal fundraising platform that integrates all of the resources used to engage the grassroots over the last four years, and all of the ideas advanced to solve our country’s problems over the same time, and is easily accessible to grassroots voters.
In short, Republicans need a cutting-edge fundraising model based on the world’s most customer-centric retail platform. In other words, conservatives need our own version of amazon.com.
A voter-centric fundraising platform modeled after Amazon will give voters the ability to:
- Raise more money for Republican candidates and causes.
- Make Republicans more competitive across the country, especially in blue states.
- Advance conservative principles in Washington DC.
Is it realistic or even possible to take the best features of an open access commercial platform, adapt them to a political fundraising platform, and integrate an interactive policy survey to accomplish everything discussed above?
Yes. It is totally realistic and it is absolutely possible. I know this for a fact because I’ve already built it. Allow me to introduce you to VoteRight.
What is VoteRight?
VoteRight is direct democracy through fundraising. Our website, voteright.com, is a “one-stop shop” that offers donation processing services to anyone looking to support conservative candidates and causes.
The VoteRight methodology is straightforward: Find a candidate. Support their campaign. Tell them why. We designed our platform based on the premise that voters should always be one click away from acting on information they read, see and learn about candidates and issues.
Citizens, Activists & Voters. VoteRight lets donors search for candidates to support using almost any relevant criteria (name, office, state/district, endorsements, issues and ratings) in a manner similar to the way customers can search for products to buy on Amazon.
Our unique all-in-one donation processing platform:
- maintains a directory of Republican candidates that users can search by state, district, office and incumbency status.
- integrates the efforts of grassroots organizations, PACs, Tea Parties, issue advocacy groups, think tanks and even conservative media organizations so that users can find candidates by endorsement, voting record, legislative rating, or to find candidates who have signed a particular pledge.
- lets donors contribute to multiple candidates and participating organizations, all in one place and all in a single transaction.
Campaigns & PACs. VoteRight also offers candidates, PACs and other groups the ability to sign up and create pages for their campaigns and organizations where donors can learn more about them, in a manner similar to the way retailers use storefronts to list their products on Amazon.
The pages we offer to candidates, PACs and other groups are published to their own VoteRight page with an embedded donation form, which allows us to offer one-click convenience to donors.
PACs and Advocacy Groups can also embed a version of their endorsement page on their websites so that members can contribute directly to those candidates upon viewing their endorsements.
If you’ve ever been to the Senate Conservatives Fund’s website, you’ll see that it’s possible to donate to SCF and the candidates they’ve endorsed in a single transaction. As you would expect, they have succeeded in raising substantial amounts of money for their endorsed candidates. VoteRight makes it possible for every PAC and advocacy group to have endorsement pages that work like the Senate Conservatives Fund’s endorsement page.
Advocacy Groups. We’ve also developed a groundbreaking feature that enables citizen groups and social welfare organizations (such as 501(c)(4)’s) that lobby, track legislation, offer candidate pledges, or rank Members of Congress based on their voting records to create pages for each of these initiatives and update them in real time. Donors can then use these pages to contribute to candidates who have signed a certain pledge or co-sponsored legislation.
Taking the Pulse of Voters in Real Time. After donating, VoteRight immediately invites donors to participate in our Voter Grassroots Priority Survey (“Voter GPS”), the largest ongoing grassroots policy survey available in politics today. Voter GPS:
- Offers every donor an interactive survey so that donors can tell their candidates why they support them and what they think about issues, within 5 minutes of making a donation.
- Maps out survey results district by district in each state across the country.
- Makes these survey results available to candidates in these districts so that they can tailor their conservative message to what will best resonate within their districts.
- Is available to campaigns, PACs and advocacy groups so that they can survey donors who donate through their websites.
VoteRight was developed specifically to make the market-based model available for the conservatives across the country. As more donors, advocacy groups and campaigns adopt VoteRight’s platform:
- Our leaders will advance conservative principles in Washington despite the political narrative.
- Republican candidates and conservative causes will be able to raise more money.
- The Republican Party will be more competitive in every state and across all demographics.
How VoteRight Works:
- VoteRight maintains a database of Republican candidates current seeking federal office that anyone can use to search by name, state, district, office, incumbency status, or endorsement.
- Any grassroots organization, party organization, Tea Party, issue advocacy group, think tank, and even conservative media group (“member groups”) can sign up and publish pages that list candidates who have:
- Been endorsed by the organization.
- Signed a candidate pledge.
- Co-sponsored certain legislation.
- Earned a certain score on the group’s legislative score card.
Advance Conservative Principles in Washington
VoteRight will help our representatives advance conservative principles in Washington by rendering the political narrative irrelevant.
Even though elections occur every two years, fundraising is constant. As a result, VoteRight will provide our representatives with survey data from their home state and/or district on a regular basis year-round. The survey data will allow our representatives to keep their “ears to the ground” while in Washington. The political narrative in Washington ceases to matter when you know that your constituents back home have your back.
Enhance Republican Fundraising Efforts
VoteRight makes it possible for Republicans to close the online fundraising gap with Democrats within the next election cycle and surpass them permanently thereafter.
We believe VoteRight will enhance Republican fundraising efforts for the following reasons:
- Donors are more likely to support candidates that are easy to find.
- If it’s easier to donate to candidates, donors will be more likely to donate to candidates.
- Economies of scale allow donors to support more candidates in less time. For example, donors are more likely to donate to 5 candidates on 1 website than to 5 candidates on 5 websites.
- Endorsements, legislative ratings, voting records and championing certain issues can drive fundraising activity.
- When there are multiple places on the web to donate to candidates, candidates can raise more money on the web.
- More people might be willing to donate if they know their opinions will be heard. After all, would you give $1 to any Republican candidate if by doing so you could make your views known to every Republican candidate?
A Stronger Republican Party in All States & Across All Demographics
CNS recently ran a story on how five of the top 10 zip codes contributing money to the Romney campaign are located in New York City.
FEC data shows that donors in blue states offer significant support to Republican candidates in red states. As a resident of a deep blue state, this does not strike me as irrational. The fact of the matter is that party registration in these states are a huge obstacle for Republican candidates to overcome (5 to 1 Democrat in the case of New York). Donors want to give their money to candidates they think are likely to win.
Despite party registration statistics, surveys on political attitudes consistently show that self-described conservatives outnumber self-described liberals by a factor of 2:1. So how do we reach them? Blue state donors provide an opening and Voter GPS can give Republicans the chance to get a foot in the door.
Blue state donors contribute to red state candidates because they agree with these candidates on certain issues. It would not be unreasonable to assume that blue state donors have concerns and opinions that are all that different from their neighbors in their local communities.
The Voter GPS survey will allow candidates to figure out which conservative issues resonate with donors in blue states. As a result, candidates can see what matters most to voters in those districts and develop a campaign message to reach out and grab the attention of those voters.
Think of it as conservative federalism.
The Voter GPS results we send to each candidate summarize:
- Responses of the candidate’s donors from within their district;
- Responses of the candidate’s donors from outside their district; and
- Responses of donors to other candidates from within their district.
Results summarize the opinions of all donors from their districts, regardless of which candidates those donors support. (Identities of donors remain anonymous.)
As more donors, campaigns and organizations adopt VoteRight as their primary donation platform, we can essentially canvass voters across the entire United States and literally map out the issues and ideas that are resonating with the public – state by state, district by district.
But for all of this to happen, we have to start using it.
If you’ve made it this far, thanks for taking the time to read this. I know it’s a long post, but this is a big task that is ambitious in scope. That said, the cause is worthwhile and we can achieve this goal.
Cross-posted from VoteRight.