The GOP’s technology deficit
posted at 4:28 pm on February 4, 2013 by Guy Benson
Plenty of ink has been spilled analyzing the Republican Party’s problems with minority voters — Hispanics, in particular — and the adverse ripple effects of fielding poor candidates. Relatively scant attention has been focused on another serious political deficiency that has placed the party at a distinct competitive disadvantage in recent cycles: A very real tech gap. The Washington Examiner’s Charlie Spierling scratched the surface of this issue over the weekend:
After Obama won in 2008, Republicans invested in social media, realizing they had no serious presence on Twitter or Facebook. By election 2010, these investments paid off, as activists proudly flexed their social media muscles. Their message was clear, and their supporters were fired up for victory. And that’s all wonderful, but the person with the most Twitter followers or Facebook “likes” doesn’t necessarily win the election. In 2012, Obama outclassed Republicans in the tech sphere because his campaign had something less visible than social media — a robust culture of technology. Technology is not a “secret sauce” or a computer gimmick — some app that magically makes you win. Technology is nothing but accomplishing goals with fewer people faster. The Obama campaign had a key grasp of that concept — it was baked into the organizational culture from the very beginning. Ever since Obama challenged Hillary Clinton’s campaign in the 2008 Democratic primary, his campaign had been forced to think of cheaper and more efficient ways to organize people and move voters and donors. His camp had a group of inspired young supporters and developers eager to join the cause. By 2012, the Obama campaign was innovating in ways Republicans could not, thanks to its institutional knowledge of its supporters.
This underscores an ironic but accurate observation — though Barack Obama is incapable of (and uninterested in) running a lean, efficient, modern federal government, the same cannot be said of his two successful presidential campaigns. Five years ago, he did more with less in order to bring down the vaunted Clinton machine during the primaries, then used the ensuing surge of momentum to utterly bury Team McCain in almost every facet of the campaign. Since his ’08 triumph, he’s insisted on staying on the cutting edge of the technological curve, making smart investments and hiring top flight personnel along the way. Attracting quality tech people has been a significant and enduring obstacle for Republicans; tech-savvy political consultant/strategist Liz Mair offers a candid diagnosis as to why. Be sure to click her embedded hyperlinks, too:
These days, just about everyone fancies themselves a digital guru of some sort, but in practice we have a lot more of these than we do these in the party. And it was a huge problem in 2012, because the Obama guys had this. No amount of planning to conduct Skype sessions or Google + hangouts with activists or really cool plans to do snazzy demographically-targeted Facebook ads (hint: My mother can do those, too) or Internet radio advertising is going to overcome that basic deficiency. What will is actually recruiting genuine technologists from, you know, tech companies to come work on GOP campaigns. But this is something the GOP isn’t doing as well at as we should, for a couple of reasons. First, people who are building the future at Microsoft or Google or Facebook or Apple or Intel or Amazon or wherever are likely earning quite a lot more than they would at, say, the RNC. They also likely have a lot more ability to secure budget for items they deem essential to spend on than your average RNC New Media Director does, and potentially less paperwork entailed to actually get the money. So only diehard Republicans would likely entertain a mere discussion about leaving and going to work there, unless the party committee starts allocating a lot more money for its New Media Director position and operations.
Second, suffice to say, there aren’t a lot of those diehards out there. The GOP, more than Democrats on the whole, has appeared disinterested in technology and technology policy issues that directly affect the tech sector. Moreover, certain policies the GOP has advocated or been seen to advocate are noxious to a lot of people in the tech world. Opposition to more legal immigration, which you get from some more loudmouthed conservatives and conservative-oriented groups like FAIR, is not a seller in Silicon Valley or Redmond. Opposition to gay marriage similarly is not. The Paulite end of the party actually has a fair number of fans in the tech sector (check out Google personnel’s 2012 donations if you don’t believe me), but the Rick Santorum/Todd Akin portion is, well, not helpful for getting the actual talent you’d want on board to take a good look at potentially getting on board, in a hands on, day-to-day, active way. Third, even if you overcome these things, a lot of what is culturally normal on political campaigns is anathema in the business world, and the tech sector specifically. A three-day turnaround to get a new website approved? Literally, the standard approvals process is roughly as scary to your average technologist as waking up in bed with his mother-in-law, naked.
I don’t agree with every jot and tittle in Mair’s piece, but it absolutely merits a careful read. The broad thrust of her message rings true, even if one doesn’t share every one of her policy judgments. Self-evaluations must be brutally honest, or else they become fruitless (and dangerous) exercises in self-delusion.