This is a look at tactical turnaround strategies for the GOP from the perspective of a management consultant and private equity professional. In today’s marketplace, the turnaround business is growing quickly. Many companies are facing re-organization processes, financial and debt restructuring, and full-scale operational turnarounds, in efforts to implement efficiencies and stay alive through the downturn. The Republican Party must also face a turnaround, one of drastic proporations, like never done before. The following is some of my suggestions on how to approach this.
The most important initiative that the GOP must address is the internet strategy, or commonly referred to as ‘e-campaigning.’ But, this is not just about e-campaigning, in terms of the GOP website, etc. We must get a much more effective and comprehensive online strategy that competes with the Democrats’ widescale online mobilization. Just a few years ago, the GOP was known for its ground game. Karl Rove & Co implemented the most extensive and sophisticated grassroots organization that has ever been seen in politics. The BC’00 and BC’04 campaigns were ran like Fortune 500 corporations. They approached the campaigns like a business and the efficiency of that operation killed the lack of organization on the Democrats’ side.
However, since 2004, the Democratic Party started refocusing their strategy through the internet and technology. They knew the GOP had talk radio in their pockets, but they also knew that the internet would far outmeasure the reach of radio. They were correct. You couldn’t visit a website, check your Facebook profile, read a blog post or check email without seeing something about Obama. In business, this would be “brand equity” … well, Obama’s brand equity is more valuable than any grassroots programme the Republicans developed before.
The internet strategy was not genious; it was just absurd that Republicans did not follow suit in trying to compete there. We thought that VoterVault and individually hosted parties for the candidate to watch debates would mobilize the people. Meanwhile, we had a candidate, who was a great man, but everyone knew he wouldn’t be able to compete with the fan affair that Obama had. We could have put anyone up there and with the organization that we had behind them for the last four years, we would have been slaughtered.
Now, after the 2006 election, I became fairly critical of Ken Melhman and his team at the RNC. I liked him, but I thought the GOP had gotten way too cocky and complacent. There was this sense that Bush would always be loved, because of what he did after 9/11 and the mandate he received in 2004. Well, the Administration failed to respond to the call from voters effectively. They focused on unattainable initiatives like Social Security when they should have been strengthening our position globally or focusing on the economy. Since the economy was booming, we turned a blind eye to any potential risk that we knew could pop up down the road.
It isn’t all George Bush’s fault. Trust me, I don’t argue that he is without blame or that he is the best President ever, but blaming him for the country’s current position is naive, nay ridiculous.
As a kid, I followed my mom around everywhere. She was a political consultant and was one of the most winning consultants in Congressional races when the GOP took over the House in 1994, as a part of Newt’s Contract With America. She later went on to work for Newt and the NRCC. I observed as a kid how the strategists behind the scenes were taking every variable that was out there, molding them into an efficient strategy and then deploying the strategy for implementation. It was beautiful and it was where I originally learned strategy. It was highly effective, and although there were hiccups along with way, in terms of the people involved, the plan itself was genious.
A similar thing continued on in 1999, when Karl Rove became the key behind-the-scenes power, and then again in 2004, which I described above. But the worst thing about this is that along the way, the internet became more and more mainstream. For instance, I worked on a US Senate campaign in 2002, and at that time, it wasn’t uncommon for a candidate not to have a website; indeed, having a website was more of the exception. After the election, people didn’t think the internet was too effective in the races, because there wasn’t a great deal of demand for e-campaigning. Many old school strategists thought the internet was more of a flashy add-on, rather than a key driver in campaigns and advocacy.
Well, the internet became more and more mainstream, and if there is one thing that I will ever give Howard Dean’s people credit for was seeing that the internet would play a key role in American politics going forward.
Fast forward to 2007/2008, where our society interaction is driven by Facebook, Google, blogging, Twittering, MySpace, and online media publications. Most of the news today is gathered via the internet in the form of publishing companies’ interactive websites or blogging, both professional and ameteur. More information is communicated and data transfered through electronic mediums than all of the yard signs, brochures, handouts, townhall meetings, phone banks and rallies put together. Nothing can compete with the forum that the internet provides, yet the Republicans have all but neglected it.
Now, I know the GOP hasn’t actually neglected the internet per se. That is, of course, an overexageration. However, we haven’t fully embraced it, that’s for sure. I don’t know if it’s because we think we know our voter base and that polls are telling us the GOP base is not interested in e-campaigning, but I have a feeling this has something to do with it. You see, the GOP has for the past couple of election cycles had a chip on their shoulder that says we know our base and we know how they want to be mobilized. That was our safeguard in every election, and since we knew the majority of this country was at core reasonably conservative, all we had to do was get them to show up, and numbers-wise, we’d be ok.
We weren’t prepared for the Democrats encroaching upon that base and actually pulling many of the rank and file away from our side. The combination of disapproval for the President and an effective Democratic movement under way came in like a special forces team in the middle of the night and took our side hostage. We had no control over our own people. Many were defecting, almost to the point of it becoming a popular thing for Republicans to crossover and support Obama. There certainly wasn’t much preventing them from doing so or keeping them here. And the weapon the Democrats chose to use was the internet; they used it like a sniper uses his rifle.
Overall, embracing technology won’t solve all of the Republican Party’s problem. Indeed, we need to do some deep consideration of where we have come as a Party, where we want to go, and then we can start talking about the most effective methods of getting there. So, yes, we need a major reorganization and turnaround. Perhaps we need to lose another election cycle and give up control for a while to figure out who is qualified to lead this Party. Maybe that will take traditional turnaround strategies like cutting the fat by eliminating some of those members of our Party that hold us back or perhaps cultivating a new generation of mobilizers who can speak to the changing landscape of our nation’s electorate.
I talked before about how many firsts were accomplished with this election. It seems like every election cycle, people comment that this one is going to be different and it never is. Well, this one was different. We saw the game change drastically. It changed so drastically that we showed up with the wrong equipment (think a baseball player showing up to a football game). But, that is done. The question now is will we change with the game? Will we figure out where the trends are going and beat the opposition to the punch next time, or will we continue just trying to keep up? These are the variables that determine whether or not the Republican Party will sustain the failure recently experienced, or if we can take this failure, learn from it, and emerge a stronger, newer Party for the future.
[NOTE: This post was originally published on my blog at www.marktomarket.typepad.com]