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The GOP spends too much time talking about “culture,” which is an amorphous blob of a term

The GOP’s definitely got some issues — for example, the electoral map isn’t very favorable to them. They thought someone like Christie or Walker or Rubio was a potential big bet for ’16, and now their best option might be a small-state Midwestern Governor. But if you’ve studied politics at all over the best few years, you’ll know that a major narrative is “the GOP doesn’t approach things digitally right” and/or “the GOP has less talent than the Democrats” and/or “online strategy.”

This is the theme of a new article in The Atlantic, which outlines a number of the same problems — the GOP focuses on traditional campaign measures (big TV ad buys, etc.), while the Democrats focus on field data, analytics, social media, etc. Old school, new school. Some of these arguments and tired and generic; others are real. One interesting thing about the post, though, is how many GOP operatives referenced the word “culture.” To wit:

“If you think [the] reason you lost to Obama is because you didn’t have a database, that’s just a fundamental misunderstanding,” said Patrick Ruffini, one of the party’s foremost digital consultants. “The problem lies not so much in not having those specific things. The problem lies in a culture.”

And then:

“As far as this gap, we’ve been doing a lot in the last year to close it: buying the technology, buying the talent,” said Alex Lundry, who served as Romney’s director of data science. “But the thing you can’t buy is the culture. And that’s the place where we’re struggling the most.”

OK, and then:

“Our challenge is less of a technology problem and more of a culture problem,” read the report from the Growth and Opportunity Project, the RNC’s recommended changes to the party after the 2012 election defeat. “We need to strive for an environment of intellectual curiosity, data, research, and testing to ensure that our programs are working. We need to define our mission by setting specific political goals and then allowing data, digital, and tech talent to unleash the tools of technology and work toward achieving those goals. And just as with all forms of voter contact, digital must be tested, and we must measure our rate of return.”

This started to get annoying after a while. Here’s why. “Culture,” by itself, doesn’t mean anything. Different people perceive it differently. The idea is “the ethos of an office/team,” right? But to some people that lies in the work; to some it lies in the co-workers; to some it lies in the managers; and honestly, to some it lies in the free donuts scattered around. When you start talking about “culture” all the time, be you a political campaign or a Fortune 50 company or a small business, you are treading knee-deep in abject bullshit waters. You can’t fix culture, because it means something different across different contexts and individuals. You can fix problems. For example:

A December study by the progressive political firm New Organizing Institute found a wide chasm between the number of staffers on Democratic versus Republican campaigns—nationally, the ratio was close to 3-to-1 in favor of Democrats. In swing-state Nevada, where Republicans had hoped the housing bust and vibrant Mormon community would lift Mitt Romney to victory, the totals were even more lopsided: 498 Democrats worked the state, to only 20 Republicans.

And also:

Most young Republican operatives view organizing as a mere entry point to a career that will eventually lead to bigger, and better-paying, gigs. “Democrats actually set up and train people to think about those jobs as careers,” said Brian Stobie, a partner at the GOP data-management firm Optimus. “A field-organizing roll can be a career over there. In our world, it’s a $27,000-a-year job you can’t wait to get out of.”

“All you’re thinking the whole time is, ‘I can’t wait to get out of this and be the political director,’ ” he added.

The first example is a problem. If you want Nevada to be “in play,” here’s how you do that: you pump more resources into the state, be it talented people or money (hopefully the former). That’s a problem — you can see it develop, and you can come up with an idea to fix it. That has nothing to do with culture, per se.

The second example is a little closer to what people mean when they discuss “culture,” which is to say — having a plan for how talented individuals can move from A to B (the thing that talented people want more than anything is some type of plan or framework for their work and their own progression).

If you read the whole article, and other articles like it, it seems like the GOP closely mirrors a lot of companies: basically the idea is that the product (the candidate, the candidate’s ideas, the candidate’s PR) matters, and managing the processes (the media, the schedule) matters, but the people are essentially inter-changeable. This is where you get thousands of talking heads talking about “the talent gap.” There isn’t a talent gap in America, per se — there’s an inability to see people for the talents they do have by the people managing them, and there’s a rampant problem of putting talented people on the wrong task, thus alienating them and de-engaging them. How many GOP operatives do you think were doing schedules or flyering who probably would have come up with some kick-ass digital campaigns? I bet there were 3 or 4. Likely completely ignored.

Good idea. Thx. But what I need now is these flyers to be distributed. Thx. 

You don’t solve actual problems by talking about “culture” and “buy-in” and things like that; those are just words you use to ultimately delay or defer a discussion you don’t want to have. The GOP may have a series of issues with their electoral map and their candidate pool, but they can fix how they treat their operatives without talking in circular, amorphous blob words.

Ted Bauer

3 Comments

  1. The GOP will not change an the only change they want is to go back to the 1800’s where women knew their place .An minorities knew better

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