July 29, 2013

National Journal reports on the growing push to revamp the Republican Party’s digital strategy in the wake of the 2012 elections. The Republican National Committee identified “digital” as an area where GOP weaknesses harmed its effort in last year’s presidential race, and several groups have emerged to push the party into the future. In particular, National Journal highlights a new consulting firm — Media Group of America LLC — that seeks to “leapfrog” over the Obama campaign’s impressive operation and place the GOP at the forefront of digital campaigning and data collection. Here’s more:

MGA’s signature on-line tool is called COR, for Central Organizing Responder, and like Obama’s Narwhal, it can merge different campaign spreadsheets on one data platform. That means canvassing lists, phone banks, fundraising reports, event sign-in sheets and social networks are all integrated with outside data for highly detailed profiles of voters and supporters.

One key difference between COR and Obama’s digital strategy: it’s for sale. Possibly as soon as next month, Musser and Skatell envision a Netflix-like sharing arrangement in which campaigns pay a monthly fee for software that even an old-school political consultant can navigate.

“The Obama campaign built a death star for one campaign,” said Skatell, an online fundraising and social media guru who worked at the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association. “COR is a system built to work with multiple campaigns with different systems and budget limitations providing real-time data insights.”

“Death Star” is something of an exaggeration. Yes, the Obama campaign built an impressive digital infrastructure that played an important role in its voter outreach efforts. But unlike the Death Star, which — as an actual game-changer — could destroy planets with a single blast, the success of the Obama campaign’s digital strategy was a function of broader fundamentals. If economic growth had taken a dip, President Obama would have lost reelection, regardless of how much his campaign invested in data collection and modeling. With higher unemployment and slower growth, Mitt Romney would have won last year, even with all of his mistakes, flubs and gaffes.

Now, none of this is to say campaigns don’t matter; if Republicans were to give up on matching Democratic efforts, it would yield a meaningful advantage for Democrats. But when campaigns are evenly matched, it’s the fundamentals that drive outcomes, and in the 2012 election, they were on Obama’s side.

Indeed, this is something to consider when looking at GOP resistance to conservative reformers. Like John Kerry in 2004, Romney was hampered by circumstances. Tweak the playing field just a little — an economic shock at the beginning of the year, a sudden downturn over the summer — and odds are good that Republicans would have won the White House in 2012. In other words, there’s no need to change the message or approach of the GOP. A slow economy and public discontent are all Republicans need to change the losing message of Mitt Romney’s campaign into a winning one in 2016.