As we draw closed the curtain on this campaign, Nagourney has an Election Day look back on how 2008 changed the way campaigns are run. And not surprisingly, the chief protagonist is the Internet:
“The great impact that this election will have for the future is that it killed public financing for all time,” said Mr. McCain’s chief campaign strategist, Steve Schmidt. “That means the next Republican presidential campaign, hopefully a re-election for John McCain, will need to be a billion-dollar affair to challenge what the Democrats have accomplished with the use of the Internet and viral marketing to communicate and raise money.”
“It was a profound leap forward technologically,” Mr. Schmidt added. “Republicans will have to figure out how to compete with this in order to become competitive again at a national level and in House and Senate races.”
This transformation did not happen this year alone. In 2000, Mr. Bush’s campaign, lead by Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman, pioneered the use of microtargeting to find and appeal to potential new supporters. In 2004, the presidential campaign of Howard Dean was widely credited with being the first to see the potential power of the Internet to raise money and sign up volunteers, a platform that Mr. Obama tremendously expanded.
“They were Apollo 11, and we were the Wright Brothers,” said Joe Trippi, the manager of Mr. Dean’s campaign.
If Republicans conclude that 2008 was simply a mechanical failure -- that it was all about how Barack Obama "used" the Internet or ran an otherwise flawless campaign -- then they will draw the wrong lessons from this year.
Take a close look at Obama's final video released tonight:
None of this would have been possible had Obama not been the cult figure we first saw at the 2004 Democratic convention. Had it been another candidate with the 25-person new media team, the corporate graphic design team in-house, a founder of Facebook on staff, the millions spent on search marketing alone, we still would have applauded, but it wouldn't have been the same. Because there has to be something organically right about it for it to work. This is why some candidates and causes catch on online and others just don't, despite trying every tactic in the book.
The central fact of Obama is the incredible political skill of the candidate. And a campaign was built around him that complemented his strengths. Technology allowed the enormous energy around a candidate like Obama to be harnessed in ways that tangibly helped the campaign, first by dramatically changing the fundraising landscape, and second by making possible a massive influx of volunteer energy (that the publicly funded campaigns of yesteryear simply couldn't have digested). In that it allowed him to reach for the $1 billion spending mark, the Internet was absolutely central to Obama's campaign, even if only a small fraction of that money was spent online.
But as important as these strategies and tactics were, the fundamental building block is the candidate. The candidates who are successful online are the ones who don't just lead campaigns or political parties -- they lead movements. When they ask people to get involved, they really mean it. Our 2012 candidate has to be comfortable with building a movement. Before a change in strategy can work, our candidates need to change. Layering a good Internet strategy on top of someone running for President of the cocktail party circuit whose campaign only cares about bundling the most big checks in Q1 or Q2 of 2011 will not work. That model died in 2008.