Memo: The Challenge Confronting the Republican Party
I wanted to share with you the following memo which I have written at the request of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, and which he has distributed to RNC members this afternoon.
This is the beginning of a four to six month project considering what the Republican Party must do to become competitive in all 50 states.
THE CHALLENGE CONFRONTING THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
To Chairman Reince Priebus:
Thank you for inviting me to present an analysis for the Republican National Committee about the current challenges Republicans face at every level.
Our working together goes all the way back to your early years in politics. I enjoyed doing events with you in Wisconsin and admired the work you did in helping Scott Walker become Governor.
I was delighted when you became RNC Chairman and I know how much you accomplished in the last two years rebuilding RNC finances and developing a better ground game.
Your creation of the Growth and Opportunity Project chaired by Henry Barbour is a very important step toward assessing what we have to learn from 2012 and what we have to do to succeed in 2014 and 2016.
I look forward to working with Henry and his team and hope this paper provides some useful thoughts about both the GOP’s past record of responding successfully to election challenges and to the changing nature of American society and politics.
Reforming the Republican Party so it can create a governing majority is an enormous challenge which includes every element of the party. However as you have observed the RNC has a key role to play in bringing together the ideas and the critiques and helping shape a clear vision of a successful GOP.
I begin with three famous quotes about solving problems.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Albert Einstein.
“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Einstein
“When I couldn’t solve a problem I would always make it bigger until I could find the solution. I never solved it by making it smaller,” President and General of the Armies Dwight Eisenhower on problem solving in World War Two.
The scale of strategic thinking Republicans need is vastly larger and deeper than any current proposal recognizes. The Republican National Committee will play a particularly important role in gathering information, encouraging analysis, hosting dialogues about key changes, and helping implement strategies for victory in 2014 and 2016.
This will require a deep, bold, thorough, and lengthy process of rethinking.
I was so shaken by how wrong I was in projecting a Republican win on election night that I have personally set aside time at Gingrich Productions to spend the next six months with our team methodically examining where we are and what we must do.
In that context I was delighted when you appointed a distinguished team to lead the analysis for the Republican National Committee. I appreciate your invitation to work directly with them on a process that will be important to the entire Republican Party and ultimately to the country.
This paper is a step in that direction.
This initial analysis is direct, tough minded, and daunting.
As you recognize, the Republican National Committee is not merely the junior partner of whoever becomes the next presidential nominee.
The Republican NATIONAL Committee has a key role to play in every level of party activity including Congress, Governors, state legislators and local offices and activists.
That key role has often led to profound improvements in the GOP at a time of electoral disaster.
THE RNC ROLE IN KEY PERIODS OF CHANGE
The RNC has historically played a very important role in recognizing new realities and developing new strategies and new structures.
After the disastrous collapse of the GOP in 1964 Chairman Ray Bliss played a decisive role in rebuilding the party structure. Within two years President Lyndon Johnson had created such a mess and Republicans had rebuilt so rapidly that the GOP won decisive victories for Congress and for Governorships.
After the devastating Watergate defeat of 1974 Chairwoman Mary Louise Smith led a courageous rethinking of the party’s strategies and structures. Her Executive Director, Eddie Mahe, undertook an exhaustive in depth look at a party which had dropped to 18% support among the American people( the lowest since the Great Depression).
In 1977 Chairman Bill Brock built on that rethinking. He backed Congressman Jack Kemp’s concept of supply side tax cutting to create economic growth. In 1978 Brock paid for the “tax cut clipper” to fly Kemp and Senator Roth around the country. This was a very courageous step because many establishment Republicans ridiculed Kemp’s ideas and opposed his bill. Even when Reagan adopted it in the campaign it was derided as voodoo economics by some Republicans).
I campaigned on supply side tax cuts and won a House seat in 1978 after losing in 1974 and 1976. I know Kemp’s ideas made a big difference.
Brock invested heavily in party structure and in ideas. After Margaret Thatcher won the May, 1979 election, Brock brought her advertising team to the United Stares and we studied intensely how they had communicated complex ideas in simple, vivid language. I was honored as a freshman to be part of that group and I know it disseminated a new wave of ideas that along with Reagan’s adoption of them shaped the GOP for a generation.
After the 1992 defeat Chairman Haley Barbour was decisive in renewing enthusiasm, raising resources, and helping shape and implement strategy. Without Haley’s help we would not have had a Contract with America, would not have won the first House GOP majority in 40 years or re-elected it for the first time since 1928 in 1996.
Your leadership in creating the Growth and Opportunity Project sets the stage for exactly that kind of decisive impact over the next few years.
There will be forces urging The Growth and Opportunity Project to develop a shallow, quick fix, small change approach to our current challenges.
There are very powerful, well connected, and prestigious forces who have made a lot of money out of the old system and have a huge interest in keeping it intact. It may be bad for the GOP but it is good for them.
There are a number of influential people who are simply uncomfortable trying to think through fundamental change. They like to raise money and spend money. Over the last six presidential elections they have been in the minority five times. If money were the answer by now they would have found a majority.
The committee has an historic obligation to insist on a very deep, through analysis of where we are, what we did, the challenges we face, and the strategies and structures needed to win in the future.
If basic rethinking doesn’t make a lot of people very uncomfortable it isn’t serious enough, thorough enough or bold enough.
This makes the Growth and Opportunity Project a central activity for the party in the next six to nine months.
Too many Republicans underestimate the scale of the threat we face.
There is a combination of demographic trends, cultural changes, technological breakthroughs and intelligent, disciplined application of resources which could turn America into a national version of Chicago or California.
It is very unlikely Republicans will win in California without major changes.
It is very unlikely Republicans could win in Chicago even with major changes.
Those Republicans who assume bad events will beat the Democrats in 2016 underestimate the power of machines to survive bad performances.
In good economies or bad Democrats win in Chicago.
Throughout the decay and decline of Detroit (from 1,500,000 people with the highest per capita income in 1950 to under 800,000 and 67th in income today) Democrats won despite failure after failure.
In Argentina Peronism shattered the country’s political culture three generations ago and Argentina has never recovered.
The Democrats have been building a national machine while the Republicans have been running campaigns.
Four years of preparation (one could argue 20 years of preparation going back to the first Clinton victory) collided with a two to six month Republican general election campaign.
President Obama combined the lessons he learned as a neighborhood organizer with the principles and systems he learned from the Chicago machine. In Florida alone they had 800 full time staff by Election Day. In some areas they had paid people who had lived in neighborhoods for over three years before the election.
This was organizing unlike anything Republicans had imagined.
As a general rule Machines beat campaigns.
It will take a large coalition working year around to bring enough people and resources together to defeat a machine
Unless Republicans profoundly and deeply rethink their assumptions and study what the Democrats have been doing the future could become very bleak and the Clinton-Obama majority could become as dominant as the Roosevelt majority was from 1932 to 1968 presidentially and from 1930 to 1994 in the House of Representatives.
THE OBAMA ACHIEVEMENT
No Republican should kid themselves about the scale of President Obama’s political achievement.
I was one of those who thought he would almost certainly be defeated.
Election night results have forced me to rethink everything I understood about how America makes political decisions.
With a bad economy, high gasoline prices, radical policies, and a massive deficit, precedent suggested that President Obama would lose in 2012.
However the President’s campaign recognized the challenges and designed strategies and structures to overcome them.
Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher asserted that “first you win the argument, then you win the vote.”
The Obama campaign took her adage to heart.
Exit polling indicated that Obama won the argument over the economy and by a large margin the American people blamed former President George W. Bush rather than his successor for the economic mess.
Building on advantages they had before the campaign began, the Obama team sealed off African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans (amazingly, by a bigger margin than Latinos), younger Americans and especially young single women.
Look at that list.
If the Democrats sustain their dominance in those groups, how can we believe we will be building a successful Republican future.
From a geographic perspective how do we write off New England, New York, California, Illinois, etc and think we are going to compete. One analyst noted that the Democratic majority starts with about 250 electoral votes and simply has to find 20 extra electoral votes to win the Presidency.
This emerging Democratic machine helps explain why, in five of the last six Presidential campaigns, the GOP has failed to win a majority (and the 2004 Bush reelection was the smallest re-election margin of any President in our history).
If we were a sports team with that record every fan would be demanding profound change.
The current Republican consulting class and their professional campaign acolytes simply don’t know enough to provide the level of knowledge we need.
Our effort should include reports from and dialogues with a number of people who have never been Republican consultants (see the “Questions” section below for some examples).
There should be special RNC meetings throughout 2013 to host day long workshops in which experts from a variety of areas immerse the committee in the realities of the world in which we will be competing.
The workshops should be streamed online and cached at an “RNC STRATEGIC THINKING” website so every Republican activist and concerned citizen can also learn and offer suggestions and comments.
We need a bottoms up rethinking involving many, many people, not a top down “expert led” process.
The experts just proved they aren’t experts so we should be very cautious about their reassurance that now they know what they didn’t know six weeks ago.
An open process would also fit more into the emerging nature of the Internet based, wireless, Information Age fluidity.
When the analysis has been absorbed and the new strategies and structures adopted it is vital that the Republicans insist on changes that are measurable.
For too long we have tolerated consultants and staff promising change as they went back to their comfortable but losing ways.
For too long we have been intimidated by incumbents and candidates who promise to follow new strategies and grow new structures but promptly fall back into the same old habits and patterns.
Mayor Giuliani’s use of specific measurements to fight crime in New York is a case study of insisting on and getting real change.
The results of the Growth and Opportunity Project should lead to measurable differences in the GOP over the next few years.
As we enter this process it is important to remember we have a lot of assets.
Having lived through 1964 and 1974 I can personally testify that we are much stronger today.
In November 1974 only 18% of the country identified as Republican. It’s hard to believe that six years later Ronald Reagan won in a landslide and two years earlier Nixon had won re-election in a landslide- a note for those who think things can’t change rapidly.
The exit polls for Congress in 2012 indicated 33% identified as Republican, 39% as Democrats, and 28% as independents.
Republicans control the US House ( not true in either of those earlier disasters).
We have 30 Governors representing 315 electoral votes (45 more than it takes to win the Presidency).
In 24 states Republicans control both the Governorship and the legislature.
Those 24 states have 161,390,000 people or 51.2% of all Americans living under Republican government.
There are only 14 states with total Democratic control.
Overall there are 3863 Republican state legislators and only 3519 Democratic state legislators.
Thus we are in a period where there could be an alliance between 30 Republican Governors and a Republican US House of Representatives which could highlight better solutions and also highlight the failures of the federal government.
There is also a large bench of talent in the Republican state legislators which could lead to a future of very good candidates at every level.
The question is if we can identify a strategy and structure which enables us to turn those assets into a victorious future majority.
THE REPUBLICAN CAUSE
Learning how to win in the 21st century is vital to the cause of freedom. The Republican Party remains dedicated to the cause of Liberty as described by our first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln when he described the source of American prosperity:
“All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all”—the principle that clears the path for all—gives hope to all—and, by consequence, enterprise, and industry to all.
“The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.”
We remain dedicated to the cause of freedom and liberty but we have to master the technologies and systems of the 21st century to ensure that that cause is victorious. We have to apply the principles of freedom, safety, prosperity, and liberty to helping Americans of all backgrounds understand how our approach will lead to their having better lives.
The key questions are about Republicans, not about Romney. It is a big mistake to focus the blame for this defeat on Governor Romney. He did not lose the majority in 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2008. This is a much bigger, deeper problem than an analysis of 2012 in isolation will solve.
The following are examples of the kind of questions the Growth and Opportunity Project should be exploring. This list is not inclusive but is merely illustrative of the depth of knowledge we need with which to begin our exploration of strategies and structures for the future.
Many of these questions will require a dialogue over time rather than a single meeting or single report. Some of them may remain works in progress over a number of years.
Start with what the Democrats have been doing right. Build a library of must reads starting with books like Plouffe’s The Audacity to Win, Bai’s The Argument:Inside the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics, and Witwer and Schrager’s The BluePrint(: How the Democrats Won Colorado(and why Republicans Everywhere should care). A small team should be assigned to pull together every book, article, and interview which helps explain what the Democrats have been doing and to organize them into topics for analytical access by every interested Republican. A working group should also issue a report on lessons to be learned after thoroughly reviewing all this material. Someone should become the chief researcher and archivist on our opponents’ systems and activities.
2. We need a map of the Democrats’ coalition and the scale and intensity of their coalition. Their organized efforts and networks simply dwarf anything Republicans and conservatives have developed. Furthermore, their coalition is a permanent system of activism while the Republican consultant model is campaign focused and therefore both episodic and isolated. An ongoing coalition can mass and focus more energy and resources than isolated short time-horizon campaigns,
3. We need a clear distinction between coalition-based campaigns and consultant-based campaigns. There are profound differences in systems, styles, structures, and attitude. The last three big Republican Presidential victories (1980, 1984, 1988) were coalition campaigns. The House victories of 1994, 1996, and 2010 were coalition victories. The Republican consultant class, many campaign professionals, and many Republican staff are deeply opposed to the coalition model. This choice is decisive in growing a bigger, stronger, and more robust GOP. The RNC should insist on this debate and force the transition to a coalition model including within the RNC structure itself. This question of strategic doctrine and the culture and structure which implements it is central to the future of the party. Another billion dollars spent on the wrong strategy and structure will be another billion dollars wasted. As an analogy, the French had more and better tanks in 1940 than the Germans. However they had the wrong strategy and structure for using the tanks. They were routed in days by a more modern doctrine. Doctrine defeats dollars and the bulk of the professional GOP is wedded to the wrong doctrine. This change will be painful but unavoidable if we are to become a truly competitive 21st century organization. The problem is not consultants, campaign professionals, and staff as such. We need solid professionals and experts who can develop complex strategies, build complex structures, and run complex campaigns. The challenge is to convert the culture and doctrine from one that is focused on candidate centric, consultant defined campaigns to one that is built around coalitions, long term party building and team efforts.
4. We need a timeline and analysis of the Obama Presidency and campaign. Some components of the campaign go back to 2006 and have been growing and evolving ever since. Micro-targeting, micro-leaders, micro-communities, and micro-issues all existed within a larger narrative. There was solid connection between campaign needs and Presidential and Executive Branch activities (including policies, appointments and schedules).
5. Infotainment is a world Democrats enjoy and use and Republicans either disdain or fear, and as a consequence avoid. The View, the Daily Show, the Colbert Report, Leno, Letterman, ESPN, Nickelodeon, MTV, and on and on, represent patterns of communications Republicans often disdain, seldom appear on and as a consequence are simply invisible to their audiences. The same could be said for most ethnic media. We need a report on the appearances of Democrats and Republicans in these areas in 2011 and 2012 and then we need a strategy for Republican engagement.
6. The strategic nurturing over time of micro-issues with micro-organizations and micro-communicating ( a pattern much richer and more powerful than micro-targeting) to create micro-communities that support their team and their candidate has been vastly better done by Democrats. This deserves its own study and a strategic response that will require very different systems and structures. There is a huge difference between the strategic development of issues over time (often lasting through several election cycles) and the Republican consultant and professional staff focus on tactics with very short time horizons.
We need at least three case studies of the growth of strategic issues on the left. The contraception issue ( which none of the GOP candidates understood when first raised in a debate by George Stephanopoulos in December, 2011) grew into the War on Women and became a major coalition message by the time of the Democratic National Convention. Post-election polling indicates it was very effective in mobilizing and solidifying one segment of the Obama coalition. It is a good example of a case study we need. How do we grow our issues? How do we recognize and trump their issues?
What other strategies should be studied as examples?
7. The 47% comment by Governor Romney reflected a deep belief by many conservatives and Republican consultants, campaign professionals, staffs, and activists. The entire psychology of writing off vast parts of a country or state and focusing narrowly may make some sense for a specific campaign. but it is a formula for permanent minority status when adopted by a party. The GOP should end red-versus-blue and narrowly focused targeting models. What would a 100% Republican Party be like if we planned 2014 and 2016 with no reference to red or blue states or counties. It is true that President Obama ran a deliberate class warfare divisive campaign. However if you analyze his winning coalition it is amazing how many components were bonded by micro-communities and a sense of inclusiveness that transcended a narrowly class warfare approach. We have to understand this pattern of defining differences while being openly inclusive.
8. California should be a test of the new inclusive solutions-oriented GOP. Having our largest state dominated by the other party is an enormous disadvantage for Presidential elections and for controlling the House. Furthermore a one-party California has proven to be economically and educationally a disaster for Californians. Finally, a GOP which includes minorities will by definition be competitive in California. A special California victory project should be developed and sustained by the RNC until California is robustly competitive again (think of it as the equivalent of the long RNC investment in growing support in the South).
9. A truly national party also has to learn to compete in urban America. The 87.5 per cent turnout in Milwaukee, which shocked Wisconsin Republicans, should also be seen as a rebuke to a GOP which has atrophied in urban America. The RNC will need an urban operation that recruits, trains, and supports candidates in urban environments. One of the RNC’s great contribution in the 1970s and early 1980s was an aggressive local candidate program. The local elections division was crucial to the growth of the post Watergate Party. In the mid-1980s it was reinforced by GOPAC. Without the work of those two systems we would not have won a majority in 1994. The RNC is NOT the presidential committee. It is the NATIONAL committee. As such it should methodically build the party at every level. This requires a structure and budget to make the commitment real.
10. Washington is going to be a mess for the next four years, but there are 30 state capitols with Republican Governors achieving positive solutions. In 24 states there is Republican control of the executive and legislative branches. There should be a close, daily alliance between the RNC, the RGA, and House Republicans. Every effort should be made to move Republican achievements from the states to the national media. House Republicans should host hearings led by Republican Governors with success stories and other hearings with Republican Governors reporting on waste and failure in the federal government in their states. In addition, a thorough analysis should be undertaken of successful Republican Governors. How do thy win? How do they govern? How do they hold their coalitions together? Washington has a lot to learn from the states.
11. The challenge of Latino, Asian American, Native American and African American supportI must be met or the GOP will become a permanent minority party. We must think through inclusion and not outreach. Out reach occurs when five white guys have a meeting and call minority activists. Inclusion is when the activists are in the meeting. As a start, the RNC should bring together minority elected Republicans and those white Republicans who do best in minority communities. New strategies and systems have to be built starting with listening to the people we want to recruit and attract. This challenge is so big, so hard, and so central to our success that it should be one of the top three items at every meeting and have one of the larger budgets at the RNC. Anything less will simply fail as it has for the last 50 years. The same model of inclusion has to be applied to expanding Republican strength among women and especially among younger single women. We should establish specific goals for increases in support within each group for 2014 and 2016.
12. How did the Obama team manage such enormous turnouts? What components of message and mechanism went into that historic result? Could it be matched by a Republican effort, and if so, how?
13. Data science Obama-style has no relationship to the Republican model of Internet politics. The Obama system is helped in data science by its 85 to 90% dominance of Silicon Valley. If you have the founders of Google and Facebook helping you design your system you have an enormous advantage over your competitors. The challenge of social networking, micro-community building and citizen mobilization may be second only to the challenge of including minority Americans in the GOP in determining whether Republicans decline into minority status for the next several decades.
14. The gap between Republican and Democratic pollsters is ominously large. The shock many Republican analysts and “experts” got election night was extraordinary and should lead to a deep, long rethinking of Republican assumptions about the country and the campaign. In my case, it is leading me to six months of in-depth questioning, learning and analysis at Gingrich Productions. If it is true that the Obama team was doing 9,000 calls a night internally, connected to their data scientists while also using traditional polling it represents a world no Republican can match today. This is at the heart of knowing reality better than your opponent and it has to be honestly and courageously addressed.
15. In story telling and narrative development, the mismatch of resources is as great as in Internet capabilities. Hollywood, New York City, academics, the news media and trial lawyers are the dominant story tellers in American life. Every one of them is overwhelmingly (80% plus) Democratic. Republicans have complained about the inarticulateness and communications ineffectiveness of the party for the entire time I have been involved (going back to August 1958). This is the third great strategic challenge along with minorities and the Internet community.
16. The cultural and language context of politics is being changed dramatically by entertainment and by the education system. A 30-second ad can’t offset hundreds of hours of sitcoms. A key speech can’t turn around years of indoctrination by left wing teachers and professors. Republican planning has to be much more aware of the context, especially for younger voters, within which we are messaging. In the long run there have to be strategic responses to the left’s domination of entertainment and education.
17. The key to success in politics as in war is the ability to stay on offense. There is a deeply destructive tendency among Republicans to fall into a defensive mode (watch the current “fiscal cliff” process as a depressing example). Learning to stay on offense requires a strategic vision that enables you to constantly orient to the future, an operational system that allows you to be inside your opponent’s decision cycle ( see Boyd’s work on OODA-loops for an explanation) and the tactical skill to dominate the media, which will normally be opposed to you. Republicans as a group have none of these capabilities.
18. What is the Republican vision of a successful America built by a freedom, opportunity, safety and prosperity majority? If we have no positive vision to attract people to and no positive vision toward which we can develop policies, it is impossible to stay on offense and impossible to build the micro-communities and coalitions which lead to victory. We have to translate that national vision into offering a better future in personal, believable terms that draw people away from a culture of dependency and enable us to offer a positive future rather than simply attacking the left. We need to become a party that people want to belong to. For example, we should have had a positive answer for lower cost, better outcome health care in addition to opposing Obamacare. People need to know what we are for even more than what we are against.i
19. These changes will require retraining or replacing much of the current generation of consultants and campaign staff. All too many of our current consultants and professional campaign staffs have very short time horizons built around negative campaigns of tearing down their opponents. This does not imply that we can succeed without consultants and campaign staff ( and knowledgeable counterparts in public office). Just the opposite. Their jobs are so critical we have to ensure they have the right doctrine and the right skills.
20. There should be an analysis of the Obama campaign compensation model. Is there a model of compensation which creates a longer time horizon? A model which encourages investing in a ground game as much as in television advertising? A model which has high rewards for winning or for meeting metrics (in some areas we may want to run starter campaigns to just begin re-engaging those communities and in those cases, the metrics of achievement may deserve rewards even while falling short of victory)?
21. What changes should Republicans make to maximize the effectiveness of their resources? There is a great deal of confusion about the efforts of the campaign, the committees, the superpacs etc. What do we need to learn from 2012 and how can we improve resource allocation in future campaigns?
22. What functions should be decentralized outside Washington? What lessons can be learned from the Obama-Democratic Party system.
23. There should be an honest, tough minded review of the campaigns, the party, and the super-pacs. There is a widespread view that money is not being distributed based on performance and proposals but instead is being distributed based on cronyism, favoritism, closed (rigged.) bids etc? This is a Republican issue not an RNC issue. Too much money was spent by too few people with too few victories to avoid these questions.
24. One test for the emerging new insights, strategies and structures would be to ask, if they had been in place in 2009 would they have enabled us to win in 2012? When the various studies have submitted their recommendations, it would be healthy this August or September to have a two day simulated 2009-2012 rerun using the new decisions to see what impact they would have had. That might be a powerful last step in developing a new model, Information Age, inclusive Republican Party capable of becoming the governing majority.
25. As we listen to the larger country and learn more about key groups we failed to win in 2012 a number of new issues will begin to emerge. We need an issue development process that will enable us to build micro-communities or supporters and appeal to many people who do not consider themselves Republican. However this process of issue development should grow out of the new lessons and not prejudge them.