I was teaching a candidate school recently in Minnesota and wandered into some dangerous territory. Our firm is often hired to do political education and one of our bigger clients is American Majority We teach several sessions that focus on Communications, Campaign Plans, Fundraising, Social Media and Grassroots Organizing (all ppts are available to download and steal here SlideShare )
The last session of the day focuses on Grassroots Organizing Online and Offline. One of the themes I present is how most grassroots movements are viral and require a "host". I then go on to say that Ron Paul was too weak of a "host" to carry his "movement". Full disclosure – I was a mail vendor for Fred Thompson's campaign (that is a whole other discussion) and I did not support Ron Paul. Having said that, I was constantly intrigued by his supporters and his "movement". I work in the business of political campaigns and like to think I am a student of how they work on a logistics and business end. So for the purposes of this post lets skip by issues and just talk nuts and bolts.
First I have to take a dig at my strident Libertarian friends who loved Dr. Paul – learn a lesson from him
- Run as a Libertarian for Congress and lose
- Run as a Republican for Congress and win
- Run as a Republican for President and get to take the stage, be in the debates and air your issues
(**CORRECTION** thanks to my observant friend Steve from Minnesota I stand corrected. Dr. Paul was Republican Member of Congress from 1976 to '85. He then ran for President in 1988 as a Libertarian. He then returned to Congress in 1996 as a Republican. I was wrong and I repent. However I think it would be fair to say that he ran for Congress in 1996 as Republican because he knew he would not win if he ran as a Libertarian.)
Pretty safe to say no one is accusing Dr. Paul of "selling out" even though he ran as a Republican. I can already feel the hate that point is going to draw…
Moving on, Dr. Paul raised over $34 million dollars of which over 99% came from individual small donors. This is a supremely impressive feat for a guy who, candidly, has below average public speaking ability, no message discipline, fairly inexperienced campaign organization and barely eked into double digits in most public polling. So his campaign was obviously not as much about the "product" of the candidate. He benefited from a couple powerful motivators;
- A disgruntled and angry free-market fiscal conservative base
- A weak field of Republican options for President
- A core Libertarian group that was already online
$34 million, unfortunately, is still not enough to get serious traction in a modern Presidential Primary. That is compounded by the fact that his campaign spent almost 50% of their cash on "Administrative" expenses. That is just unacceptable. Barely a third of the dollars spent went towards actual voter contact. Ok, now all my grassroots friends can holler and say "of course that is what an evil money grubbing political consultant would say!" But folks let's get real, modern campaigns are not small mom and pop businesses any more…especially ones for President. They can start that way but at some point you have to bring in experienced folks to run the ship…having said that the grassroots are still vital and important to success, but they have to have experienced leadership.
Looking back at Howard Dean circa 2003…the guy almost became the democratic nominee and was much more viable than Paul. Both had strong grassroots movements but Dean had some adults in charge at HQ. Ultimately, I think both Dean and Paul were not strong enough vessels for their movements. So what happened to many of those early Deaniacs? They became the base of Barack Obama's underdog campaign in early 2007. So why was Barack successful where Dean was not?
- Obama is a FAR superior candidate "product" than Howard Dean
- Obama's team of very experienced political folks had a whole list of lessons learned from the Dean Campaign
- The online left-roots had only grown larger and stronger since 2003
In short I would propose that Barack Obama would NEVER have gotten off the ground had it not been for Howard Dean.
So if you were a Ron Paulie in 2007 what should you be preparing for? Look for the well spoken Liberty candidate. Can you imagine if Dr. Paul had the TV appeal or speaking skills of a Mike Pence or Jeff Flake? There will be a Republican candidate running in 2012 (in all seriousness they have probably already started) that will carry many of Dr. Paul's limited government issues, learned from his mistakes and have a more experienced team around them. Don't know who that "Candidate X" is yet but if you find them let me know.
Candidate X is looking for your passion, your love of liberty and yes your dollars too. That candidate will finally be worth the absolutely incredible effort that so many Paul supporters poured into the 2008 primary.
Be looking for that candidate because they are probably already looking for you.