Ethnic Outreach From Conservatives, Done The Right Way

I want my party to do this! From Tim Mak at FrumForum:

In the ongoing Canadian election campaign, we’re seeing a lot of examples for ethnic outreach done right – especially with the micro-targeted campaign ads that the Conservative Party has recently released in minority languages like Mandarin and Cantonese and Punjabi ...

In this election, we now have Alice, Tim, Harry and Nina – all minorities who are Conservative Party politicians, speaking in their native language to members of their ethnic group

The ads are particularly well done. This one was done by Canadian Conservative Member of Parliament, Dr. Alice Wong, speaking to her constituents in Cantonese:

And here's an English-language version from Canadian Conservative MP Nina Grewal:

Why are these ads powerful? Because they celebrate diversity without exploiting it. I have made the case before than some who profess to be "progressives" often use ethnicity as a way to divide and drive voters. These ads and this outreach program clearly serve to celebrate Canadian ethnic diversity while also discussing shared values. In fact, the second ad above makes the point that "things haven't always been fair for" ethnic minorities, yet progress it being made and that it's time to "vote our values."

Both major parties in America have now had extensive experience in Hispanic-language ads. But when will Republicans celebrate our diversity of elected officials and candidates in a way that can serve as outreach tools to Americans of all backgrounds? Will we soon watch TV ads, hear radio spots and see pamphlets in Mandarin, Korean, Farsi, etc.?

Bottom line: the right kind of creativity and strategic thinking can communicate shared conservative values to different ethnic, religious and cultural communities.

Reapportionment: Policy Matters

Christmas has come a few days early this year in the form of the decennial data dump from the U.S. Census Bureau that kicks off the redistricting scramble. The reapportionment numbers were not only hugely consequential for the makeup of the next Congress and the durability of the Republican majority, but even a cursory look at the state-by-state numbers one sees the clearest possible vindication of conservative ideas at the state level. Dare I say, this week's numbers were the most ringing endorsement of the Republican governing model since Rudy Giuliani towered over the vested interests in New York City. Not only did the South and West win -- which liberals will dismiss as a function of weather -- but low tax states consistently beat high tax states. Not only did conservative states beat liberal states, most tellingly, the winners were almost to a man conservatively governed. 

Consider this striking fact unearthed by political strategist (and former Giuliani adviser) Ken Kurson, posted on Facebook: 

    Avg tax rate in states gaining a Congressional seat: 2.8%
    Avg tax rate in states losing a Congressional seat: 6.05%
    People vote with their feet.

This finding is relevant to top marginal tax rates, which unlike property or sales taxes more prevalent in redder states punish creation rather than consumption, but the basic finding runs deep throughout the numbers. The big population winners did not just happen to red states with nice weather. They also had a deeply embedded Republican governing model. Consider who governed in the big population-gaining states this year. 

    Texas +4 (10 years of Republican governors, 0 Democrat)
    Florida +2 (10 Republican, 0 Democrat)
    Nevada +1 (10 Republican, 0 Democrat)
    Utah +1 (10 Republican, 0 Democrat)
    South Carolina +1 (8 Republican, 2 Democrat)
    Georgia +1 (8 Republican, 2 Democrat)
    Arizona +1 (2 Republican, 8 Democrat)
    Washington +1 (0 Republican, 10 Democrat)

Collectively, that's 58 years of Republican governance to 22 years of Democratic governance in the states gaining Congressional seats. And Washington State's impressive record -- alone among true blue states -- likely had more to do with the little matter that it lacks an income tax, and an initiative this year to impose one was beat back by 2-to-1. 

More than that, the leadership of these growing states has not only been Republican, but very much conservative: Rick Perry (whose approach to luring jobs from high-tax states is methodical and focused like a predator stalking his prey), Jeb Bush, Mark Sanford, and Sonny Perdue. 

Other gems abound in these numbers, providing us an acid test on the difference between good and bad policy. 

Michigan's prevailing wage union economy has wreaked more devastation than Hurricane Katrina did to Louisiana. Michigan was alone among the states to lose population, losing 0.6% of it. Louisiana (which had to deal with the destruction and relocation of major portions of its biggest city in this decade) gained 1.4%. 

The Northeast continues to bleed, especially its dying, secondary metros. New York state, which absurdly tried to levy an iPod tax under the hapless Gov. David Paterson, limped along with 2.1% growth (the national average was 10%). We don't have county numbers yet, but we can infer that the New York City area, and especially the suburbs, were the bulwark of any growth. Both New Jersey and Connecticut, which are roughly half New York City suburbs, outperformed the entire region (4.5% and 4.9%, respectively, to the Northeast average of 3.2%). This shows us that there is still a creative class and professional allure to major metropolitan areas that can partially counteract high taxation. But what happens to the remnant, secondary metropolitan areas out of reach from New York City or Boston? There, you have no creative class and sky-high taxes forced upon them by liberal city-dwellers. The bottom line: Goodbye Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. A similar dynamic is at play in New England. High-tax, secondary metro Rhode Island performed worst (at anemic 0.4% growth) while the Boston bedroom communities of income-tax free New Hampshire lifted it to a region-leading 6.5% growth rate. The Granite State is like a miniature version of Texas up north: increasingly metropolitan and lightly taxed. 

The Midwest is also hurting, but good policy saves the day. The Midwest fared only slightly better than the Northeast at 3.9% vs. 3.2% growth, but here one begins to see the difference policy makes. The damage here was done by both Democrats and weak sister Republicans. Michigan, which stubbornly refused to change under eight years of Jennifer Granholm, has the nation's worst economy and population growth. (Let us hope, for the sake of the survival of that state, that Governor Rick Snyder and his Republican majorities in the House and Senate can deliver a Right-to-Work law.) Ohio has the second worst, under the consecutive administrations of the corrupt, tax-raising Bob Taft (a Republican) and Ted Strickland (a Democrat). Like Snyder, John Kasich has the opportunity to emerge as a hero of the recovery. But aside from tiny South Dakota, the state in the region with the best population growth at 7.8% -- 4 points higher than neighboring Iowa and 2 points higher than neighboring Wisconsin, was Minnesota, where Tim Pawlenty held the line on taxes and spending for two solid terms. (Disclaimer: I help with Gov. Pawlenty's Freedom First PAC.) Likewise, there is no real reason that industrial Indiana should have performed any better than neighboring Illinois or Ohio other than its distinctively Republican orientation and the budget-cutting leadership of Gov. Mitch Daniels. Illinois, the state whose political leadership this decade consisted of Rod Blagojevich and Barack Obama, turned in a mediocre growth rate of 3.3%, lower than all of its neighbors. 

For the First Time, the South Leads the Nation in Growth. Past Censuses showed the nation's growth tilted West. For the first time, the South took the crown this time, with an overall growth rate of 14.3% to the West's 13.9%. That's a turnaround from 2000, when the West led with 19.7% growth to the South's 17.3%. It's also perhaps a sign of the waning power of immigration as a driver of that growth (it tilts west, though heavily Latino Texas is considered part of the South). In many ways, this past growth was also because the West was the only truly "new" and underpopulated region for the better part of the last century. The 2010 Census shows the trend is definitely waning. The only state with a truly torrid growth rate was Nevada, at +35% -- but it was 66% (!) in the 1990s. The filling out of the interior and mountain West is also slowing. +24% and +21% growth in Utah and Idaho respectively show that it's not just about good weather, but those numbers represent declines of about 15 to 20 points from '90s growth rates. 

The Rise of Texas and the Decline of California. The blaring headline from the 2010 Census is, of course, Texas picking up 4 Congressional seats, landing at 38 total electoral votes. The last time a non-California state had this many was New York in the 1980s. At the same time, California leveled out at 55 electoral votes, the first time since the 1920 census that they haven't gained seats. Joel Kotkin has an excellent read on the California-Texas dynamic, stoked by Rick Perry who boasts of "hunting" for jobs every time he visits the Golden State. 

Texas's 20.6% growth off an already strong base shows its continued promise. California's 10% growth was the weakest in the West save for Montana (9.7%), showing again that even with its favorable geographic positioning, government for the public employee unions, by the public employee unions bleeds jobs and natives. Both states are bouyed by high immigration, much of it illegal (with Texas seemingly avoiding the social friction that characterizes the trend in California and Arizona). While Democrats wax hopeful that long-term demographic trends will ultimately save them (Democrats have been waiting in vain for a blue Texas since the days of Ann Richards), but they forget that many of these are nonvoters (hence the enduring push for amnesty). In California's case, counting illegal immigrants serves to prop up the state's Democratic electoral college block (without really changing the internal electoral dynamics of the state, in terms of new voters added to the rolls), while in Texas it helps add a few more Republican electors. The net effect of immigration is thus a wash in terms of national elections. 

The outflow from California can also be seen in the continued phenomenal growth of neighboring Nevada and Arizona. One telling story is that of Zappos, which moved its headquarters from San Francisco to Las Vegas this decade because the lack of a real middle class in the Bay Area made it difficult to find call center employees. 

The Curious Case of New Mexico. Here's another state where bad policy may be making a difference: New Mexico. Like its neighbors on the border, the state feels the impact of immigration. Yet its growth is a respectable but less than torrid 13.2%, almost half of Arizona's and a full seven points below Texas. Only Colorado's 16.9% comes close. Politically, New Mexico has been seen as a haven for corruption, is heavily dependent on government employers (the national labs), and has been ruled by Democrats including Bill Richardson. If there is any newly elected governor who's well positioned to make a difference with fiscally sound policies, it's Susana Martinez. 

New York Nearly Fades to 4th Place. If there's a cautionary tale California should heed, it's New York. 2010 was the year California topped out its power and influence on the national stage, and may face an actual decline in Congressional representation in years to come. New York has been in population free fall for some time now. Once the Empire State in both name and fact, Florida is now within 500,000 residents of overtaking it. New York's decline from 1st to 4th seems inevitable. 

RHR Launches www.ChooseYourChairman.com

The 2010 elections have ended, and the House and Senate Leadership choices have been made, but the Republican Party still faces yet one more crucial choice: selecting the next RNC Chairman.

Republicans Helping Republicans, has launched www.ChooseYourChairman.com allowing you to “voice your choice” for who should be the next leader of the Republican National Committee. 2011 and 2012 will be very crucial election years for the Republican Party. We’ll need a strong RNC Chair to help lead this charge and to ensure that our candidates are equipped for the upcoming challenges.  Please visit www.chooseyourchairman.com and let your voice be heard. ---Princella P.S. Thursday morning (11/18/10), I’ll join Jansing & Co. on MSNBC at 10am Central / 11am Eastern and then a few more times within the hour. Will try to plug the site then, too. Tune in if you can! 

 

A Smarter Response to the State of the Union Address

After the election, I saw several Republicans discussing who should deliver the SOTU response speech.

No one should.

First, any speech is bound to suffer by comparison to a speech before a joint session of Congress, with the Supreme Court in attendance.  Republicans tried to capture some of the same spirit by having Bob McDonnell speak before a small crowd of supporters in the Virginia House of Delegates chamber, but if you can’t match the pomp and grandeur of the president, try to avoid a direct comparison.

Not only is the venue working against you, but the president is a nationally-elected official; no member of the opposition can have the same stature.  Appearing to try to match the president’s status just plays to his strengths.

And finally, a speech, to be delivered immediately after the president’s carefully-planned opening move, puts the responder at a disadvantage.  Since the response speech is written without knowing exactly what the president is going to say, what is supposed to be a criticism of the president’s speech or agenda is relayed in vague terms, not pointed responses.  A prepared speech can only talk past the president, appearing deaf to what the president just said in the marquee event.

This precious free airtime could be spent dismantling the president’s argument, then pivoting to counterattack and providing alternatives.

How can the opposition do this?

Take advantage of the fact that they have fewer restraints.

First, make it a table discussion with more than one responder.  As a suggestion, include at least one governor to remind the audience that there are independent sources of authority, laboratories of policy that should retain their power to handle local problems (a big-city mayor could also do), and also include a legislator representing the opposition in Congress to directly address the president’s agenda on the federal level.

This also takes the pressure off of any one person to speak for the party, and signals that the opposition is having a frank conversation, not speaking press-release style through the great filter of lawyers and focus-group-tested language.  Make good use of stars like Paul Ryan and Chris Christie who have shown they’re champs at off-the-cuff communication and aren’t afraid to take on big issues.  Bobby Jindal would have been far better suited to this than talking into a camera solo.

Second, use resources the president doesn’t have.  The president is limited by the tradition of giving his speech in the chamber of the House of Representatives, which only affords him a microphone, a teleprompter and an audience.  Instead of trying to beat the president at his own game, use a modern-looking studio, where the responders can make use of supporting staff and visual aids like charts and video.

And this extra content should come from a well-coordinated rapid-response team who provide ammunition for the response.

  • The model for responding to a speech in progress is liveblogging.  Certain people, by some mix of expertise, encyclopedic memory and quick wit, have proven they can tear apart a carefully-crafted speech in real time.  Identify these people—bloggers, political operatives, think-tankers—and (with their advance permission) borrow their best arguments and lines.
  • A media team would be responsible for matching the president’s remarks to earlier video and quotes from the president, his advisers and top congressional allies that contradicted the president’s SOTU message.  Anyone with a good memory and a well-ordered catalogue of video and/or transcripts can do this.  What could be more damaging than showing that the speech just delivered contained flip-flops?
  • To respond to specific policy proposals and claims, have a team of stat junkies, economists and others who can call up relevant charts and other visuals to help the responders on-screen.

This kind of rapid counter-offensive would be much more entertaining than the president’s exhausting, conventional address, giving viewers a good reason to stick around afterward.  And it would be much more effective than current efforts like sending out fact-check emails and post-speech press releases, the contents of which are read by only a tiny minority of people who saw the speech.

Don’t play to the president’s strengths. Use your own, leveraging all the media available to you that the president doesn’t have.

Mr. Boehner, Please Move Beyond Earmarks

This from the House Speaker-designate for the 112th Congress in today's Wall Street Journal:

[T]here are several steps I believe the next speaker should be prepared to take immediately. Among them:

No earmarks. Earmarks have become a symbol of a broken Washington, and an entire lobbying industry has been created around them. The speaker of the House shouldn't use the power of the office to raid the federal Treasury for pork-barrel projects. To the contrary, the speaker should be an advocate for ending the current earmark process, and should adhere to a personal no-earmarks policy that stands as an example for all members of Congress to follow.

I have maintained a no-earmarks policy throughout my time of service in Congress. I believe the House must adopt a moratorium on all earmarks as a signal of our commitment to ending business as usual in the spending process.

And this from the President during his post-election news conference on Wednesday:

My understanding is Eric Cantor today said that he wanted to see a moratorium on earmarks continuing.  That’s something I think we can -- we can work on together.

In light of the economy, I can understand why Boehner is focusing on earmarks as the most visible symbol of what needs to be fixed on Capitol Hill. And I agree that we need to fix the abuse of the earmark process by reforming it. But the fact is that not all earmarks can be construed as wasteful spending and not all wasteful spending are in earmarks. It's easy to come up with rhetoric denouncing "the evils of earmarks," but what we should be focusing on substantively is wasteful spending.

I don't want to get into debates over how Republicans should define public goods and wasteful spending. I do however want to talk about what principles should be espoused by Republicans when it comes to spending and how we can be innovative on sound spending policies.

What are some budgetary principles that should be communicated by Republicans to the American people?

  • The Solution Principle: Every challenge facing the American people does not require a federal office and federal funding.
  • The Priorities Principle: Every family and every business has to balance their checkbooks, their revenues with their expenses. Through good times and bad times, families and businesses have to sacrifice what they might want and prioritize their spending. The government should operate like any prudent family or business does, and prioritize.
  • The Investment Principle: The American people are "forced to invest" their income into government. Each taxpayer is, therefore, a shareholder in government. Because taxpayers have invested their money into government, taxpayers deserve the best return on their money. This means the "portfolio of investments" (otherwise known as government projects and agencies) must be reviewed carefully and objectively in order for the government to fulfill their due diligence.

How can we turn those principles into solutions? The answer is to do what's difficult, not easy (i.e. earmark moratoriums), and be innovative about our budget from both procedural and substantive points of view:

  • Follow the lead of Paul Ryan and his "Roadmap for America's Future" when it comes to restructuring our entitlements.
  • Don't allow earmarks to be placed during conference committees between the House and Senate.
  • Install a biennial budgeting process, something promoted by Senator George Voinovich (R-OH), while also requiring supermajorities to increase in a fiscal year after a budget has been passed (for legitimate emergencies).
  • Separate capital budgets from operating budgets for each department. Long term projects are very different from short term day-to-day costs.
  • Instead of an executive Chief Performance Officer that gets to pick and choose what works and what doesn't under subjective criteria, have Congress create a Congressional Agency Performance Office that has some independence (like CBO) to constantly scrutinize the operations of all government agencies.
  • On capital projects that go to specific state and local governments, quasi-agencies, and companies, start a Congressional Office for Spending Oversight. Just like every business has control officers, this independent office should scrutinize long term projects' spending practices. This can allow Congress to reward under-budgeted projects and punish over-budgeted projects.
  • Not only should spending be posted online before it's passed. It should also be posted online when it's spent. Just like many state governments have done, the federal government's checkbook should be posted online.

I'm glad that we're getting out in front of the President and Democrats on this. We need to be in a proactive position, not a reactive position. Talking about earmkars is too easy. This is just another area where we need to develop political communication and public policy entrepreneurship on a serious issue.

The Natural Majority

In thinking about what to write after a long election season hiatus, I honestly just thought of completely reposting this piece from back in May, which built upon an earlier case I laid out for a ginormous Republican seat gain by making the case that if you simply assigned House seats to their Cook PVI winner, the result would be a sizeable GOP majority. 

How big? The seat breakdown I had for a perfectly politically balanced House of Representatives was 239 Republicans to 196 Democrats. 

Right now, we sit at 239 and we'll end up in the 242-243 range. 

In an odd way, I think the Tea Party surge has ended up bringing Washington back to the true political center of the country, but not yet fully to the right. The obstacles Republicans faced in moving the needle in their House numbers -- entrenched Blue Dog incumbents like Ike Skelton, John Spratt, Chet Edwards, and Gene Taylor -- were moved away last night. These are not "surge" seats that will be surrendered at the next election, but now likely Republican for life -- and ones we didn't have during Republican control of the House from 1994 to 2006. I tweeted out a few possible remaining targets for 2012 -- Heath Shuler for one, Ben Chandler for another -- but in truth I was having trouble coming up with that many because the Blue Dog hit list was exhausted so completely. 

Meanwhile, we generated a 63 seat wave without much in the way of gains in deep blue areas. The second act to the Scott Brown miracle didn't happen as New England stayed staunchly blue with the exception of New Hampshire. That's unfortunate from a storytelling perspective, but it also means we defend our newfound majority from much more solid ground than either the Democrats from 2006 onwards or Republicans in the dozen years after the 1994 revolution. 

The atmosphere in Washington today is also much more muted than it was after '94. Check out this remarkable clip of Gingrich right after the '94 vote poking his finger in the eye of the White House, claiming a mandate and saying "We are revolutionaries." I remember all that, but it sounded so out of place in today's context given all the modest rhetoric about a "second chance." 

This election was also a direct repudiation of a leader elected under Messianic pretexts. It was only a matter of time before the arrogance of it all -- the Hope stuff, the "We are the change we've been waiting for," the pretentiousness of the sunrise "O" -- generated an equal and opposite reaction (kind of like all of you who love to hate the Yankees). With Republican enthusiasm in the toilet the last two cycles, their very legitimacy as a political opposition spit on by the media, Republican voters I talked to yesterday took enormous satisfaction in seizing upon Obama's political weakness as they cheerfully showed up to vote. 

The act of yelling "realignment" after an election is getting tired and farcical after an unprecedented third wave in a row, so I'll resist doing it here. In the House, there was a tactical realignment, as seats Democrats held for personal reasons now give way to natural conservative Republican-held strongholds we'll hold for a long time. Attitudinally, the pendulum simply swung from the far left to the center. The President will be a Democrat, the Senate will be narrowly Democratic, and the House Republican, and the overall result will be all sides canceling each other out, e.g. centrism.

While not conservative per se, it is in one important sense: very little will get done. And that's a good thing. D.C. types assume gridlock is a dirty word, but voters acted very deliberately to hit the breaks on the Democratic train that ramrodded Obamacare. A pause in the frenetic activity of the last two years in Washington, and the fact of the House as a de-facto veto on spending levels, means a profoundly conservative outcome, if not in policy, than in the nature and speed and pace of activity coming out of the nation's capital. 

Tea Party 2010: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The Tea Party movement was, until yesterday, a relatively unknown and elusive electoral force, having never existed for a national federal general election. Clearly, it had a great deal of influence among conservatives and Republicans during the primaries, with well-known "establishment" candidates in states such as Delaware, Alaska, and Nevada being knocked out one after another in favor of "Tea Party" candidates. In the immediate aftermath of the 2010 election (and even with a handful of races still undecided), it is hard to argue that the Tea Party wasn't a notable force in the general election as well. However, that force was not always positive, and indeed, some of the Tea Party's influences were bad, while a few instances were downright ugly. As someone who is neither a card-carrying party loyalist nor a dedicated Tea Party member, here is my take on those forces:

The Good

It is impossible to deny that the Tea Party contributed in many positive ways to the massive change of course that was the 2010 election. The Tea Party fueled much of the outrage behind the outcome, driving conservatives around the country to come out and vote in opposition to the President's extreme agenda.  Accordingly, it seems unlikely that the magnitude of Republican gains in the House would have been possible without the Tea Party.  Indeed, early exit poll data suggested that 41% of those voting in House races supported the Tea Party, while 31% opposed it – and that 87% of Tea Party supporters voted for the Republican candidate.

The Tea Party also helped elect immaculate candidates like Marco Rubio. The energy behind the Tea Party movement helped fuel Marco Rubio's lead in the Republican primary, which resulted in Charlie Crist deciding to instead run as an Independent, and ultimately produced a huge victory for Republicans nationwide. I firmly believe that Rubio, an incredibly brilliant and passionate man who will also happen to be the only Hispanic Republican in the Senate, will quickly emerge as a leader for the Republican Party. He's someone who can help attract many people from demographics key to long-term GOP sustainability – including Latinos and potentially young voters. Senator-elect Rubio's victory is certainly one of the most exciting developments of yesterday's election results.

The Bad

On the other hand, the Tea Party seems to have been fairly damaging to the prospect of a GOP takeover of the Senate. At the time of writing, Republicans had gained 6 seats in the Senate for a total of 46, which is unquestionably a respectable outcome. It looks like the votes remaining to be counted in Washington and Colorado will push the Democratic candidates over the top in both states – and Alaska is still a question mark, though it seems likely that either candidate will caucus with Republicans.

It's distinctly possible (and in at least one of the cases, fairly likely) that at least two of the Democratic Senate victories could have been Republican victories if not for relatively poor Tea Party candidates.  These candidates are, of course, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware (I'll come back to the latter shortly).

I actually expected Angle to squeak by, albeit very tightly.  The bottom line, however, is that Angle as a candidate left a lot to be desired – just Google "sharron angle gaffe" for a plethora of examples, but this one in particular comes to mind.  Her loss against a highly unpopular and vulnerable Harry Reid is an unambiguous testament to that fact.

Obviously, different results in the two races in Delaware and Nevada – even with the victor in Alaska caucusing with Republicans – would not alone have produced a majority (Republicans would then hold 49 seats in the Senate before CO and WA).  However, it seems hard to believe there won't be a battle in the Senate sometime over the next two years in which those two additional Republican Senators would be helpful.  Not to mention the possibility that Independent Senators Lieberman and Nelson may have chosen to caucus with Republicans.

The Ugly

There's Sharron Angle, and then there's Christine O'Donnell.  I have to make it clear up front that I think Ms. O'Donnell is a wonderful woman.  I had a meeting with her and her campaign manager shortly before she exploded onto the national scene, and I found her well-spoken, intelligent, and extremely personable.  But being a great person is not nearly enough in politics, particularly at the Senatorial level, and there's no way that a reasonable person can honestly say that she was remotely close to being even an acceptable candidate.  When you need to run an ad saying that you're "not a witch," your campaign is clearly in trouble.  Let alone the countless allegations of impropriety in handling campaign funds, which regardless of whether they are true make it unmistakenly clear that the Tea Party members who backed her candidacy and helped her defeat Mike Castle in the primary blatantly failed to properly vet her.

Karl Rove's thoughts on this are spot-on:

"It gave me no pleasure to say that she was unlikely to win," he said. "But this again provides a lesson. This is a candidate who was right on the issues, but who had mishandled a series of questions brought up by the press."

From start to finish, Christine O'Donnell's candidacy as the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware was flat out ugly.

Bottom Line

Even with a handful of outcomes still up in the air, it is unmistakenly clear that the 2010 election was nothing less than a wave delivered by voters who resoundingly rejected the Democratic agenda.  A great deal of outrage came from members of the Tea Party movement, and that frustration played an important role in delivering substantial gains for Republicans – not only in the Congress, but also in governor's mansion and state legislatures around the nation.  However, with these positives came at least one significant negative – a larger than ideal Democratic margin in the Senate that resulted from a couple of poor Tea Party candidates.

The RNC's Donkey In My E-mail

The polls will be opening in 33 or so hours from the time of this posting, depending upon where you live. This makes it an optimal time for the Republican National Committee to send out an electronic GOTV fundraising message -- which they just did. The e-mail, signed by former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, begins this way (emphasis added):

When you wake up on November 3rd, will you be able to say that you did everything you could to stop the Obama Democrats' leftist agenda and return American government to the American people?

Mike Huckabee is calling out the "leftist agenda" of the left? Let's take a look at Huckabee's agenda over the years:

Perhaps Pat Toomey says it best:

He’s every bit as bad, and you don’t have to just take our word for it. Jonah Goldberg, you and your fellow editors at National Review, Bob Novak, and John Fund — to name just a few conservative writers — agree that Mike Huckabee is no conservative. You can read the Club’s white paper on our website, but here is a quick summary of Huckabee’s worst hits. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the average Arkansas tax burden increased 47% over Huckabee’s tenure. Huckabee supported (in chronological order) a sales tax hike; gas and diesel fuel tax hikes; another sales tax hike; a cigarette tax hike; a nursing home bed tax; another sales tax hike; an income surcharge tax; a tobacco tax hike; taxes on Internet access; and higher beer taxes. Huckabee also oversaw a 50-percent increase in spending; happily signed a minimum wage increase and encouraged national Republicans to do the same; favors a national smoking ban, farm subsidies, and a federally mandated arts and music curriculum; opposes private school choice; and employs class-warfare and protectionist language on the campaign trail. Huckabee calls himself an economic conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, but the above list doesn’t sound like either.

Huckabee's agenda seems fairly leftist, reminding me of the following German idiom: Ein Esel schimpft den anderen Langohr. Appropriately, this roughly translates as follows: One donkey insults another by calling him Longears.

I've noted in the past that the GOP needs libertarians more than libertarians need the GOP. To some degree, they've listened and libertarians have now been welcomed back to the table -- and we are even allowed to use the front door from time to time.

Even larger than the libertarian movement is the Tea Party movement, which is powerful enough to make or break the GOP.  Comprised of roughly the same percentages of conservatives and libertarians, the Tea Party movement is nearly 100 percent fiscally conservative.

As a libertarian and a Tea Party activist, I feel like the payment I've received for my hard work over the last two years has been a slap in the face by Michael Steele.

The Republican Party is poised to enjoy considerable electoral gains Tuesday night. In choosing their GOTV poster child, the RNC could have picked someone liked by the people who are going to sweep the Republican Party back into power. Chris Christie and Jim DeMint serve as great examples of elected officials with high positives throughout the movement.

By choosing Mike Huckabee as tonight's electronic spokesman, the Republican National Committee has reaffirmed their commitment to their power-over-politics big-government principles.

On Think Tanks and Mobile Technology

Joining the Brookings Institution, and followed not long after by the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute made a splash in the mobile app world last week with the release of the first Official Cato Institute iPhone Application. The first release of Cato's app features access to the Cato@Liberty blog, a native podcast client and direct access to Cato's YouTube content, and policy studies and scholar op-eds in major publications. You can view screen shots and read more about the features in a blog post I authored the day of the app's release.

As Robert Bluey, Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, noted earlier this week, the release of the three applications by Brookings, Cato, and Heritage prompted Nancy Scola at Personal Democracy Forum's techPresident blog to ask, "...does anyone actually use this stuff?" and "...is anyone seeking out these apps as they seek out research, news, and points of view?" Be sure to check out Rob's comments here and here.

Here at Cato, we saw over 2,000 downloads in just 36 hours. As one of the most well-known public policy research foundations in the world, this wasn't too surprising, but we are nonetheless very proud and encouraged by consumers' expressed enthusiasm, especially given that we spent very little money to develop the application. Like Heritage, we don't have access to the demographic data on the app's consumers, although we've received some very positive feedback from media, Hill staff, and other stakeholders in the public policy arena. We are also monitoring and encouraging people to use the #Cato20 hashtag on Twitter, which we are using as a primary feedback loop for people using the application.

But despite this instant success, Nancy's questions still remain. The Obama campaign's development of a proprietary iPhone app was nothing short of a total game-changer in the 2008 election, empowering volunteers with all sorts of tools (phone banking, canvassing tools with interactive maps and voter lists, along with scripts and on-demand campaign platform information, among other features). Do think tanks need tools like this? At Cato, a non-profit research foundation, we never ask anyone to do anything - we don't organize politically. We publish research papers and books (along with other media offerings), and host seminars, workshops, and forums for interested constituents. Our only real need is a steady stream of resources. So it is also interesting to note, then, that Apple won't allow donation buttons in iPhone apps, ostensibly because they don't want to be responsible for ensuring that the total amount of an intended donation actually reaches its destination.

Does this render a mobile application for a think tank useless? I'm not sure that it does, especially since Cato's mission is described thus:

In an era of sound bites and partisanship, Cato remains dedicated to providing clear, thoughtful, and independent analysis on vital public policy issues. Using all means possible — from blogs, Web features, op-eds and TV appearances, to conferences, research reports, speaking engagements, and books — Cato works vigorously to present citizens with incisive and understandable analysis.

A mobile application, then, helps the Cato Institute to continue to develop inroads with stakeholders at all levels by dispersing and distributing information resources to anyone with the technology. And just because Cato doesn't organize people, or ask anyone to write letters to their Congressman or Congresswoman (for example), doesn't mean that there aren't a broad swath of libertarians around the world who are passionate about spreading the message of free markets, individual responsibility, limited government and peace - so having the Cato Institute's scholarship in their hand wherever they are only helps them to achieve their goals.

 

Scola also critiques each application's usability factors, particularly how each organizes content. Her suggestion that it is a drawback to Cato's app for content to organized by date is a fair one, given that we organize content on our website that enables users to search for content by scholar, by research area, by publication title, etc. But subsequent releases of the application will likely remedy this, and at the risk of tipping our hand, we will look to incorporate other features that permit users to share content across the social web directly from their mobile device. We are also currently working to develop applications for other mobile devices and platforms (including Android), and will announce them when they become available to users. We have also begun making many of our books available in e-reader format, including Kindle and Nook.

The lesson from think tank applications, and it will be interesting to continue to monitor how each organization continues to develop their respective technologies, is that, as with any other technology or communications strategy, it's important to know: a) who you are, and b) what your goals are. Only from a coherent understanding of both can organizations from city council campaigns to global public policy research foundations develop and implement tactics that help realize those strategic goals.

George Scoville is the Manager of New Media at the Cato Institute.

The Irrelevance of the "Online Base"

Micah Sifry's response to my post (and Mindy's) on the size of the right online brings forth a basic assumption I'm not so sure is apt anymore -- that there is an "online base" that's distinct from the base offline, and from there, to the electorate at large? A few years ago, I know this was the case. Now, I'm not so sure. 

A few years ago, the mark of an online activist was pretty clear: participation in blogs -- as either a blogger or commenter, or membership in (likely multiple) political email lists and a history of donating and volunteering in response to online appeals. 

The rise of social media and the growing ubiquity of the Web as an entry point for campaigns makes the 'net a singular platform for activism -- online or offline. 

Unsatisfied by the political success of the Tea Party movement more broadly, Micah is greatly interested in what its size is, and specifically, what its size is online

 

Again, I'm sorry, but if you're going to tout the Tea Party movement as the embodiment of a wonderful flowering of grassroots activism on the Right, as both Mindy and Patrick rightfully do, you've got to expect that inquiring minds are going to want to know, well, how big is it? How many people are active in it? And you can't wave your hand and say, well, there are too many groups and none of them really are the hub and therefore it's impossible to say how big. Let's look at the metrics.

In 2008, roughly 13 million people joined Barack Obama's email list. That's also the size of his Facebook fan base today, roughly double its size since the election (a counterpoint, Micah, says, to the right-is-dominating-online argument -- though I'd say it's more indicative of Facebook's growth since Palin -- and others' -- numbers have also at least doubled). 

The number 13 million -- roughly 20 percent of the total votes Obama received -- suggests something that transcends activism as we normally understand it, and specifically online activism (however you define that to be different than regular activism). If all you need to do is hit the "Like" button, is it activism? Or is it something more akin to casting a vote, something roughly 130 million people did in the last election? That shows the "online activism" picture getting muddled. You don't need to be an activist, or even terribly savvy politically or technologically, to make your voice heard online nowadays. The tools have gotten so mainstream, and so easy, that the line between an activist and a supporter is blurring. 

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, we're seeing many candidates whose online fundraising now exceeds their direct mail fundraising. Are these two groups separate and distinct? Has online permanently enlarged the activist pool? Idealistically, we'd like to say yes. But practically speaking, it's probably mostly a matter of grabbing the low-hanging fruit from the offline space who simply find it more convenient to engage online. I would contend that these are no longer two radically different groups of individuals, but the larger base of conservative activists is migrating online. In this way, I don't think you can separate broader political success and enthusiasm from online activism in the way Micah does. 

In 2004, it was easy to have a debate about online activism in a silo. Blogs were relatively small, frequented by at most hundreds of thousands of Americans, and experienced by more only when the media deigned to talk about them. Political blogs were fragmented and difficult to find, not like leaving a stray political comment on someone's Wall or clicking "Like" on a politician because you happen to be on Facebook for two hours a day anyway. 

The nature and scope of online activism has changed dramatically since then, but the outlook of some techno-political pundits who cite Daily Kos uniques as the be-all, end-all of activism has not. We're now at a point where every significant change or insurgent movement in either party is dependent primarily on the mainstream Internet -- Facebook, Twitter, and participation in websites and e-mail lists seeded by offline megaphones like Fox News, MSNBC, and talk radio. The narrowcasting of blogs seems less relevant now, because there are much bigger media and technology players driving people online. This is popularizing online activism and making it indistinguishable from regular activism. 

Sure, there are still plenty of groups that depend primarily on direct mail for their fundraising, but few new groups. Judging from what I've seen this cycle, the Big Shift to online is happening. And just like the early adopter disillusionment that's gripped tools like Twitter and Facebook now that Lady Gaga has taken her place at the head of the table, we're finding that the political Internet isn't just for tech geeks anymore. Lots of regular folks are joining the party. 

 

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