Karl Rove’s Air Power Strategy Failed America And His Donors

Reading Time: 3 minutes

We heard it repeatedly during the Iraq wars: air power alone cannot win. You must take and hold ground in war.

plane-crash

The same is true in political combat. For years the GOP upset Democrats at all levels through superior ground games. Typically, this process involves:

  • Identifying potential voters
  • Contacting the high-value targets
  • Registering the unregistered
  • Mobilizing them on election day

Karl Rove’s Crossroads PACs tried a different strategy this time. Rove decided to wage a decisive air campaign, using his $300 million war chest to buy airtime in key markets at the last minute. Apparently, team Romney followed suit.

The strategy failed miserably.

Rove’s 2010 Reference Point Was Flawed

Rove’s fundraising ability for 2012 relied on a flawed understanding of what happened in 2010.

During the Tea Party revolution of 2010, Rove targeted key markets with television ads late in the race. The vast majority of the races Rove targeted were winners for the Republicans. It was that fact that led some donors to trust Rove with as much as $30 million each for 2012.

Apparently, not even Rove grasped the difference in the two elections. In 2010, Rove focused on House and Senate races where Republicans were already ahead. In 2010, groups like American Majority Action and Freedomworks put unprecedented numbers of boots on the ground in these districts long before Rove every showed up.

The traditional pollsters missed 2010 because they underestimated conservative enthusiasm and over estimated Democrat enthusiasm. So when Rove’s bets paid off, it looked like he was a genius.

He was: in betting, not in strategy.

But no one bothered to ask if Rove’s 2010 ads made a real difference.

Jump ahead to 2012. Voter enthusiasm was down across the board. The money for ground warfare was diverted to Rove’s air campaign. And, unlike 2010, the full force of the DNC powered Obama’s re-election bid.

While Rove and Romney identified television markets, Obama identified and mobilized new voters. While our phone banks focused on the people on the voter rolls, Obama’s team grew the voter rolls. One observer said that Obama mobilized voters that Romney didn’t know existed.

We Can Fix It

We will win in 2014 and 2016 if we understand the failures of 2012. We need to shift spending from television and Super PACs to technology and people.

First, we need to hire top-shelf marketing strategists, data analysts, marketers, behavioral psychologists, market scientists, database designers, data miners, and web and app developers. That’s where money must go in 2013 and 2014.

Next, we need to invest in systems that support the people above. These systems have to work, they have to work well, and they have to support MODERN marketing strategies, not Y2K-era web sites.

After that, we need funding for the largest GOTV campaign in history. People don’t like phone-banking and door-knocking, and they have plenty of alternatives today. Our campaign offices need to be fun, inviting, entertaining, or people just won’t come out.

Finally, grassroots organizations need to spend far less time in their affinity bubbles talking to themselves nit-picking over minor policy differences. We need to put down our dog-eared copies of  our favorite books occasionally and get involved in spreading ideas in the language and context of 21st century America. And we have start advancing a few big ideas rather than a bunch of little policies.

We Need New Thinking and Funding

A lot of people on Twitter and Facebook are talking about doing what we’ve been doing, only harder. That won’t work. Grassroots conservatives burned themselves out in 2009 and 2010 working hard. And in 2012, the fatigue showed.

We need to look beyond politics to see how winning campaigns work. Look at advertising and marketing. Look at Hollywood and the online game worlds. Look to experts in consumer behavior and neuroscience. Stop looking inside the damn knitting circles of like-minded people.

If you want to help, register on this site. I’ll be talking a lot more about the strategy in Missouri.

The Karl Rove School of Sanctimony

Reading Time: 2 minutes

When I read about Todd Akin’s unfortunate comments to Charles Jaco, my first thought was uncharitable.  “I could just kill him.”

“I could kill him,” is an idiom. Its cousins include “wring his neck” and “poke his eyes out.” Idioms hyperbolize our emotional reaction to an event.

I was angry because Todd Akin gave the left a great talking point in the infamous interview. I like Todd Akin. I voted for him.  I want him to beat Claire McCaskill, and, if not him, someone. So his hideous PR failure Pissed. Me. Off. In fact, I’m still feeling a bit uncharitable, but that’s my problem at this point.

Karl Rove attacked Akin almost immediately.

Karl Rove, who directs a lot of campaign money through Crossroads GPS, vilified Akin. Rove promised to pull Crossroads funding from Missouri. He predicted that Akin would lose his race against Claire McCaskill for the US Senate by largest margin in modern history.

All fair and good. Akin put a safe Republican Senate pick-up at risk by his failure to check his tongue. Akin’s error put at risk four years of hard work by millions of Americans and jeopardized Todd’s favorite causes, including pro-life.

Rove Gone Wild

But at the Republican National Convention, Karl Rove drove right off the rhetorical Chappaquiddick Bridge.

“We should sink Todd Akin. If he’s found mysteriously murdered, don’t look for my whereabouts!”

Roves comment was not an idiom. It was an original thought. He said “murder,” not “kill,” indicating intent and planning.

Even more malevolent,  “we should,” which Rove said, is not “we could.” Could implies ability; should implies duty.  Karl Rove essentially said, “We are obliged to murder Todd Akin.”  Or at least to defeat him in November.  (Todd Akin has since accepted Rove’s apology, for which I tip my cap to both men.)

So much for Karl’s sanctimonious excoriation of Todd Akin.

But he was joking of course.

Or was he?

In charity, we assume Rove isn’t plotting Akin’s physical assassination. But he might be plotting Akin’s political assassination.

Rove implied he prefers Claire McCaskill to Todd Akin.  That’s fine.  He’s entitled to support whoever he wants for the US Senate.

What irritates me most about Rove’s comment, though, is exactly what irritated me about Akin’s.  In a world where Republicans are held to a God-like standard by the media, saying idiotic things in public hurts the cause.

Rove committed precisely Akin’s sin.

He said something stupid that reached public ears.

For that, Rove deserves the same excoriation he’s advocated against Akin.  My guess is, though, Karl’s wealthy friends will protect him.

MSM Editorials on Rove

Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’m not talking about the editorials on the editorial pages, but the remarkably blatant editorializing in the “news” stories covering Karl Rove’s resignation from the White House.

An AP story by Terence Hunt retrieved from news.myway.com begins by describing the whole of the Bush administration as “turbulent.” Perhaps, but the color of the paragraph indicates that the turbulence was Rove’s fault. If blaming Rove was Hunt’s intention, then Hunt must believe Rove ordered the Islamofascist hijackers to fly airplanes into buildings.

The next paragraph is breathtaking in its complete, but subtle, condemnation of the Bush administration:

It was a major loss for Bush as he heads into the twilight of his presidency, battered in the polls, facing a hostile Democratic Congress and waging an unpopular war. A half dozen other senior advisers have left in recent months, forcing the White House to rebuild its staff at the same time the president is running out of influence.

Terence could have saved a lot of syllables by simply writing, “Rove’s retirement further dooms Bush’s failed presidency.”

This blatant Bush-bashing in the news sections is just one of the reasons Americans don’t trust the press. Terence Hunt would do himself, his employer, and his trade a big favor by leaving the hard work of reporting to reports and pursue his life-long dream of being a pundit.

Perhaps the liberal mania against hard work and success drives people like Hunt to vilify ultra-successes like Bush and Rove. The latter two men achieved the very pinnacle in their fields. Liberals like the mediocre, the also-ran. Achievement is to liberals what a banana peel is to a dog: they see people enjoying it, but they can’t get past that smell.

Others on Rove’s resignation:

Michelle Malkin

Ed Morrissey (Comprehensive coverage)

Blogs of War (good round-up of blog reactions)

NewsBusters

 The Discerning Texan