The GOP Autopsy; Or, Stop Saying What You’re Doing

The Republican Party released a report of deep introspection this week, and the reactions to the “GOP Autopsy” continue.  The report championed the need for the party to re-brand.  Naturally, that kicked off more of the “grassroots versus party bosses” and “Tea Party versus Establishment” arguments that have waged for months.

Those are false arguments.  The real failing of the “GOP Autopsy” is that it exists at all.  The report has quite a few excellent ideas, but the first rule of re-branding is not to say you are re-branding.  Making a big public show about a new image suggests that image is skin deep.  Memos like this are best kept internal.  When the memo inevitably leaks to the media, the right answer is, “Our party always looks at new ways to help great candidates bring their message to the people.”

The real answer to a political party’s woes – whether Republicans in 2012 or Democrats in 2004 – is to have party identity take a back seat to a good candidate that people can identify with.   A more welcoming candidate than John Kerry could have beaten George W. Bush in 2004; a more welcoming candidate than Mitt Romney could have beaten Barack Obama in 2012.  That makes organizing, candidate recruitment down ballot, messaging, and getting out the vote a lot easier.

(Sidebar: When discussing publicly the future of any political organization, it’s probably best not to refer to that discussion as the dissection of a dead body.  A corpse is a bad metaphor for “new and revolutionary.”)

RNC jumps right on the Ryan budget plan

On Friday, the RNC sent out an email calling for supporters to sign a petition in support of Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget proposal.  Quick, huh?

Speed kills, and this RNC email came over a month after Ryan uploaded his YouTube video outlining the problem with continuing government spending.  That gave the Democrats a month to complain that the GOP budget proposal would strip old people of their medicine like a starving robot.  The RNC is a little bit late to the party on this one.

On the plus side, the email does direct activists back to a petition, where they can register their support and send their own brief message.  If the RNC is doing things right, that means the folks on the email list who respond to this email will be tracked and identified for the upcoming Presidential races.  If those people live in some place like Ohio, they should be on the extra-special, “we need these people to go to the polls and I bet they’d drag four people” list.

The spending issue isn’t going away, and there’s plenty of time to re-frame the debate.  For the RNC it’s better late than never.

Anuzis highlights tech experience

After announcing his bid for the RNC chair last week by highlighting Michael Steele’s shortcomings in fundraising and the ground game, Saul Anuzis predictably started highlighting his tech-friendly background as a point of difference between him and the incumbent.

“It’s critical we integrated new media into everyday politics. It works, it’s efficient and we need to do it,” Anuzis told The Hill when contacted over the weekend. He also said his candidacy has already sparked enthusiasm among social networking aficianados.

What will excite online activists even more is that Anuzis isn’t making the election all about technology to begin with.  His initial announcement dealt with main, overarching problems he saw in the RNC.  Anuzis then brought up technology as a response to how he would deal with those problems.

Whether or not he is ultimately successful, arguing for technology as a means rather than an end prevents Anuzis from being labeled as a niche “tech candidate” and positions him as a more serious challenger.

Anuzis challenges Steele

The Weekly Standard caught a tweet from Saul Anuzis, the former Michigan Republican Party chairman, saying he will again run for RNC Chair.  He will probably not be the only challenger to incumbent Michael Steele.

Steele seemed like a good fit for the job when he bested five rivals – including Anuzis – in January 2009 in a grueling, multi-ballot race.  He provided much-needed racial diversity to the ranks of the Republican talking heads and brought blue-state credibility.  On the heels of the 2008 shellacking, the Republicans badly needed to demonstrate they were more than a party of white southerners.

From the beginning, there were whispers about Steele’s lack of conservative street cred.  Where Steele has drawn criticism, though, has been in the “blocking and tackling” – the basic elements of a party chair’s job, like fundraising and building a GOTV infrastructure.  (In fact, Anuzis uses just that term.)  After a six-way race for the chairmanship, criticism was inevitable for whoever won, but Steel made it easier.  The whispers in Republican circles (which “unnamed sources” give voice to in the Weekly Standard piece) is that the 2010 gains should have been bigger.

In his announcement, Anuzis channels the 2008 McCain campaign (which poked at then-candidate Obama’s quasi-celebrity status):

My agenda is very straightforward. I have no interest in running for office. I won’t be writing a book.  It is not my goal to be famous. However, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who will work harder, more diligently and be more committed to electing Republicans from the top to every township and city across this great country of ours.

It isn’t worth including at this point in the campaign, but Anuzis has another bullet left in his chamber: his background in digital politics.  As the race for RNC chair heats up, look for Anuzis to use this – accompanied by criticism of the failed initial launch of GOP.com – to separate himself from the pack.

Grading the new new GOP.com

The RNC re-relaunched GOP.com this week.  The last reboot, back in October, was a better site than they had before, but was met with scorn and derision from the tech world. So how is the new version any different?

Design: B-

The site is clean, simple, and open, and the red-white-and-blue motif isn’t terribly over the top.  It’s definitely pleasing to the eye, even if it is a bit boxy.  It moves much quicker than the old site, which was bogged down with technical problems from day one.

But use the site some more and there are a few things that are just out of place.  For instance, GOP.com incorporates video into several blogs and other elements, but these videos are sometimes tough to find.  For instance, in the screen shot on the left, the video player is buried at the bottom.  That may be due to the fact that President Obama’s image is on the player, but that’s still too valuable to bury.  Further, other sections of the site miss out on drawing the eye with video – opting instead to post a link to the YouTube channel rather than a recent video.

Content: C-

The good news is that a section highlights Republican women running for office this year, which is something the party should be playing up.  Unfortunately, some of the cringe-inducing aspects of the old site remain – such as a Republican Hall of Fame featuring Jackie Robinson (who wasn’t a Republican) and Frederick Douglass in a bend-over-backward attempt to reclaim the black vote.

The Issues section has a nifty carousel of the big issues of the time, plus a brief blurb on each.  This is a missed opportunity; in 2008 Barack Obama used the issues section of his campaign website to dive deep into various policy proposals.  Obviously, a party is different from a candidate in that there are many different opinions and angles on any given issue.  The solution might be to have candidates and party VIPs weigh in with policy briefs.  The RNC could set overarching policy positions, but the site could act as a repository of opinions from Republican politicians. It’s the same principle both parties use in tapping a specific elected leader – rather than the party chairman – to deliver rebuttals to the State of the Union address or the party’s weekly address.

I also found it hard to find out who the Republican candidate is in my Congressional district and what I could do to help.  I ended up going through the state party’s website to do so.  Also missing on the main Action center was any obvious link to voter registration information, which is pretty basic.

The chairman still has a blog – mercifully not called “What up?” anymore – and the RNC seems intent to create most of the official content in-house.  This is a waste of effort down on South Capitol street – it seems like an aggregation of Tweets, blogs, and conservative media outlets would be a better way to go, and underscore that the party’s ideals permeate outside the beltway.

Now, the good news: the Blogs section, while having maybe one or two blogs more than they need, has a developers blog to discuss technological aspects of the party infrastructure.  That could be fun to watch.

Utility: A

This isn’t the most obvious part of the site – I had to click around a bit to stumble on it – but the our.GOP.com community aspect has some promise.  Aside from the basics of allowing users to set up profiles and blogs, there’s this:

And this:

These two features allow Republican activists to define for themselves what it means to be a Republican activists.  That invites involvement, which makes it easier later on to ask those activists to participate in more defined campaign activities when the time comes.  It could also make activists better, not just by promoting great ideas but also by tapping into the wisdom of crowds to help fine-tune messages and materials.

The site also integrates user IDs from other online sources, so you can easily sign up with a Facebook, Aol, Google, etc. account.  Besides streamlining the process, that will help the GOP identify where and who the activists are, and target future communications accordingly.  It also translates actions taken on GOP.com to social networks, and increases the likelihood of virality.

Overall: A-

I logged on to the new RNC.com wanting to hate it, but even with plenty of room for improvement, is has the elements of a very good tool for activists.

I spent 16 years of school trying to convince teachers and professors that grading on potential rather than actual product.  They didn’t buy it, but I did, and that gets GOP.com over the hump and into the A-range.  What it lacks in content can be made up for by the social elements of our.GOP.  For the rank and file voter, the lack of local information and voter registration details makes this site less helpful; hard core activists, however, should find it useful.

It’s still better than WGN

Looking to keep stories about the White House’s dabbling in primary elections alive, the RNC launched the “Obama Chicago Network” in an email to supporters this afternoon.

The site boasts four “shows” that deal with various negative stories surrounding the Sestak/Romanoff could-have-been-bribery affairs, plus Rod Blagojevich thrown in for fun:

Even if it is somewhat dated in the pop culture references (some of the shows they are spoofing are past their prime or canceled), it’s pretty funny, makes good use of news clips, and has a poll to collect people’s contact information.  With Blagojevich in the news, it does a good job of tying the administration As a lead generator, the site is good, but it’s missing something that could make it a really useful tool for Republican messaging: a section where users could “pitch” their own shows.  Not only is audience participation a good thing, but it might make for some must-see TV.

Flubs of Steele

Michael Steele shouldn’t have blamed his recent fundraising flaps on racism.  Luckily, he didn’t, despite the headlines crawling around today

Watch the clip: Race was actually brought into the discussion as part of a viewer question, which Steele answered honestly – and, to be fair, correctly.

Maybe Steele should have been a little clearer on the fact that he was speaking broadly about the fact that, although we have come pretty far in this country, black people still get the crap end of the stick more than they should.  He did bring it up as a bipartisan issue.

But his out-of-context quote has been framed to sound like an excuse and repeated over and over.  Any person who wrote a headline – or worse, a story – that implied that Steele was hiding behind race for the recent RNC scandal is either a political hack or a bad journalist.  (And ABC’s own site, which claimed Steele “played the race card today,” is no better.)

Again, watch the clip.

Last week the New York Times went over the top, implying that anyone who opposes government-run health care might as well be hanging with Ed Norton and Edward Furlong and giving out curb smileys to anyone who rooted for the Lakers over the Celtics in the 1980s.  In comparison, Steele’s mild observation is a much more reasoned and well-thought-out social commentary on race relations.

Thankfully, the White House’s Robert Gibbs set everything straight during the daily press briefing, calling the concept that black people and white people are treated different “fairly silly.”

Because there could be no better expert on race relations than this guy: