Improve the Message, Not the Messenger
After the Republican defeats in 2006 and 2008, the GOP came to the realization that it lagged far behind the Democratic party when it came to circulating its message. The Democrats had a well-organized network of online activists and an active blogosphere, which combined to spread Democrat talking points. The Republicans had…not much—a few blogs that had half the audience that the liberal ones had, and that spent as much time attacking Republicans as Democrats.
So Democrats had a clear online advantage. This translated into a powerful edge in the election—Barack Obama got millions more from online donations than John McCain did. Obama’s website was a useful networking site for his supporters, while McCain’s was a typical campaign site.
After the election, Republicans looked at the online situation and decided that things needed to change. So Republican and conservative strategists started planning for online domination—Facebook groups, strategy blogs, protest websites. The idea is that conservatives and Republicans (the two aren’t always mutually inclusive) will have an efficient online network in the Democrat model, making organization and party-building much easier. An added bonus is an expected increase in support from young people.
There are two problems with this strategy. The first: it follows the liberal model too closely. True, the liberal blogosphere has been extremely valuable to the Democratic party (though I think that perhaps its import has been exaggerated), and it’s obvious that the Internet will play an increasingly important role in politics.
But the Internet is constantly changing, constantly evolving. What is cool on the Internet now may be utterly passé in a year. Just four years ago, Republicans had the upper hand in the blogosphere—in well under a year, the balance of power utterly changed. A year ago, the Daily Kos was getting presidential candidates at its yearly convention—now, Time magazine has declared the Daily Kos nothing more than a collection of DNC talking points. Just two years ago, MySpace was the online place to be—now everyone who’s anyone has a Facebook.
So given the rapid pace of change on the Internet, the model the GOP is trying to follow may be totally outdated in just months. Republicans should look to the future for inspiration, instead of the past; they should be trying to adopt the Internet 2.0 as their model, instead of doing what has already been done.
The second reason the Republican online effort is misguided: they are putting the messengers before the message. Imagine that the RNC’s website was just as attractive and useful as the DNC’s is; pretend that Redstate and The Next Right were as attractive and interesting as the Daily Kos; say that there were an abundance of opportunities for Republicans to volunteer and network.
It would all still be totally worthless without a good, strong message. Building a great communications network without a strong message is like sticking a wonderful luxury hotel in Wyoming—there’s just not much you can do with it. And even if Republicans have the best network in the world, the party would be just as moribund as it is now if there isn’t an equally strong message to go with it.
If the message is good, if people respond to it, it will get out somehow. It’s possible to extend the reach of that message through technology, and doing so is important (as the success of the Democratic party has shown). But the strength of the message is the most important factor. As I think it’s hard to say that the decade-old, recycled bromides the Republicans have been spouting since Obama’s election constitutes a good message. And neither does constantly mentioning Joe Plumber. If Republicans want to be taken seriously, they will have to improve the message before enhancing the messenger.