Over the past several weeks, I’ve been reading about how Barack Obama won a second term. I’ve been reading a lot of sources – from the left, the right, and the “mainstream media.” But mostly I’ve also been reading reflections from many different people – including from various conservative friends across the country who are searching for an answer.
And an answer they deserve.
How Obama Won the Ground Game
How on earth could a President presiding over such a devastating economy get re-elected? On Election Day, there was 8 percent unemployment, 23 million Americans out of work, and 46 million on food stamps. For a President to get re-elected under those circumstances means he had quite an impressive political victory.
Some of that victory includes an impressive ground game. A few snapshots:
- Here in Florida, Obama’s campaign had over 103 field offices and recruited over 200,000 volunteers
- From the Obama campaign’s Chicago headquarters, they spent over $100 million on collecting data on voters and potential voters. Then, they used that data to microtarget advertising in non-traditional ways to get the vote out. They then ran 66,000 computer simulations every day to predict voter turnout. For more on that read this article: http://swampland.time.com/2012/11/07/inside-the-secret-world-of-quants-and-data-crunchers-who-helped-obama-win/
- After Obama’s very successful 2008 campaign, he did something unprecedented in American history. He didn’t stop campaigning – the “perpetual campaign” as I like to call it. Most Presidents (and candidates) are always preparing for the next campaign. That’s not the unprecedented part. Obama developed an organization called “Organizing for America” which left key 2008 campaign staff in all the major swing states. Those folks kept organizing for Obama from the day he was elected in 2008 until the day he was re-elected in 2012. They developed relationships, learned about the political environment on the ground, and developed strategies to win
410,000 Votes – That’s the Difference
All of the above paid off for Obama. Over 120 million Americans voted in the general election in November. Yet, it came down to just four swing states that Mitt Romney needed to win but lost: Colorado, Ohio, Virginia, and Florida. Romney lost those four states by only 410,000 votes combined. That’s it. Considering the number of field offices, the $100 million investment in data mining, the “boots on the ground” the Obama campaign left in place during his first four years in office, Obama squeaked by with a win by having an unbelievable ground game strategy.
A Century Long Project: How the Left Wins Hearts and Minds
The Leftist project we are now seeing come to fruition was started a century ago – with the early “progressive” movement – a movement that publicly held the Constitution and our founding fathers in contempt. This movement saw implications in the role of government under the tutelage of Presidents such as Teddy Roosevelet, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt – all of whom vastly expanded the role of the executive branch and the intervention of government into our daily lives.
This “progressive” movement was ramped up 50 years ago, in post-WWII America, as leftist intellectuals – under direction from thinkers like Italian communist Antonio Gramsci and community organizer extraordinaire Saul Alinsky laid out a vision and strategy for how you take over a society: through the culture. In the past half century, the Left has taken over Hollywood, the media, and academia. These are the places where most opinion is shaped.
Four years ago, their vision was articulated by a smooth-talking celebrity politician named Barack Obama who embraces the progressive agenda and has the communication skills to sell it – and in some cases hide it.
And now with the changing demographics of the nation, we must look at the map and see WHERE we are losing: the urban areas, where there is a high concentration of minorities as well as single, white young professionals. This isn’t about red STATES and blue STATES. It’s about urban vs. rural/suburban/exurban areas.
I’m not sure if we focus on the POPULATIONS or on good free-market policy alternatives for the PLACES that include those populations, but those are my initial thoughts as far as reaching new demographics with the freedom message.
All Is Not Lost for Republicans in 2012
This wasn’t a sweeping election for Democrats. While they won back a few more House seats, Republicans still remain solidly in control of the House. Democrats remain in control in the U.S. Senate, but they will again have to defend a lot more Senate seats in 2014 than do Republicans – and the Republicans seats that are up in the U.S. Senate appear to be much “safer” than most of the ones the Democrats are hoping to win back. I think about $6 billion was spent on the 2012 campaign – from every race to every interest group. Voters say they don’t like the direction the country is headed in, but we are largely left with the status quo. But this isn’t the status quo of 2008; rather it’s the status quo of 2010.
Republicans hold 30 of the Governor’s seats (actually picked up a net gain of one in 2012) and a majority of the state houses in the rest of the country. It is now up to the Republican Governors to showcase how good policy works in their states versus how they work in states under Democrat control – or how they contrast the lack of leadership in the White House.
It appears to me the “big loss” for Republicans was the biggest race – the one for the White House. And my analysis says this: the Presidency has largely become about personality and how well the Presidential candidate connects with most Americans. With all the credentials Mitt Romney has – a good family man, a successful business man, a politician who is far from right-wing and has demonstrated how we can work for solutions in a bipartisan way – he does not connect well with the average American.
A President must represent everyone from a San Francisco liberal to a South Carolina conservative and everyone in between. Think about it: Obama plays basketball, participates in the NCAA Final Four bracketology, holds beer summits, and hangs out with Jay-Z. These were hardly the Presidential qualities needed of statesmen like George Washington and James Madison. Today, however, we have a much larger nation – in terms of geography and population. We also live in the era of 24/7 cable television and the smart phone. The way we envision our President is different – whether for good or ill. We need a way to strike a balance between getting someone with a good resume for the job and the ability to not only communicate a message effectively but connect with the average American outside of what is purely political. In that realm, Obama’s got game. But so did Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and even George W. Bush.
So we shouldn’t think we have “lost the country.” Most of the country is governed by Republicans. It’s just that so much power is concentrated in the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, that it feels like we lost so much by losing the biggest race. The founders believed in limited government and separation of powers for a reason. And since we have strayed so far from their vision of good government, those chickens are coming home to roost right now.
Moving Forward: A Self-Reflection
While I am disappointed with the election results, I’m not deflated. As I told my mom when she asked me how I was doing after the election result, I told her I’m fine. I’m not one of the 23 million unemployed or one of the 46 million on food stamps. I also cast my vote against the idea of stealing from the rich or robbing the next generation.
So I can live with myself, unlike others in our society who live on the idea of “revenge” against the successful or who live in ignorance of what is going on in our government. No matter what happens in any election, the government cannot take our soul unless we let them and as a believer in God, I know HE is still in control. So in the broader perspective, I am doing just fine.
I think the conservative movement needs to concentrate less on elections and more on the culture. We need to encourage more conservatives to do more non-political things – but things that ultimately have an impact in the political. We need more actors, screenwriters, filmmakers, and directors. We need more conservatives going into academia and being more coy about their political inclinations so they can actually get a job in a very competitive, closed environment. The same can be said about journalism – though I think the age of new media is already having an effect. But we need to do better than Fox News.
And as I mentioned above, we need to figure out why we are losing in the urban areas. Is it policy? Should we focus on good policy for those living in urban areas? Or is it the demographics of the people who happen to live in those areas? Should we tailor our message to the audience we want to reach? Or is it the culture? Are people in cities less connected with their neighbors, more anonymous to each other, and have less connection to their community and civil associations? Are they less concerned about faith-based issues? (Are they just heathens?) Are they more dependent on government – such as the concentration of public housing projects, welfare offices, public parks, public transportation and government schools? I don’t have all the answers, but I’m sure that among some of these questions better people than I can find some solutions.
The Right’s Reaction: Ground Game
In the short term we will still need to do better at actually winning elections. Probably about six months ago, I heard the choir of grassroots activists including tea partiers complaining that the Mitt Romney campaign and the Republican Party on both the state and national levels was not running a good ground game. After hearing this over and over again, I asked those I know within the party, why the party wasn’t investing in the “boots on the ground.” I was told that in statewide and Presidential campaigns – those contests aren’t won on the ground, they’re won on the air – meaning television and radio ads.
Well, that strategy needs to be rethought, because the Democrats surely didn’t buy it and they invested heavily in data, social media, and the actual boots on the ground. Republicans need to get their act together here and develop an infrastructure. This might require an infrastructure that is NOT reliant on the Republican Party – much as Obama’s “Organizing for America” didn’t rely on the Democrat Party. The parties are rendering themselves more useless these days and the groups outside the traditional party structure need to step up if we are to win and take back America.
What happened to Florida?
No matter your preference, Florida was certainly a surprise on election night. As I mentioned above, from a political perspective, the Obama campaign has to be congratulated for a great ground game. More than four years ago, Obama invested in a permanent infrastructure that did not rely on the political party but continued to manage relationships and invest in a path to victory.
Just like America, Florida is almost exactly equally divided. In fact we were so divided, our state wasn’t called for Obama for a full five days after the election. Florida remains a true reflection of the nation. All the demographics of the country are right here and our vote splits with the President carrying the state by just a half of a percentage point – at this writing, by only 74,309 votes in a state where over 8.4 million people voted. Just like in the rest of America, President Obama’s victories in Florida were in more urban areas; Governor Romney’s victories were in the suburbs, exurbs, and more rural areas.
For conservatives to win in the future – both in this state and in the rest of the country – they need to invest in messaging and providing solutions for those in urban areas. Those areas are also high in minority populations which Governor Romney had trouble with winning. I believe here in Florida, free-market advocates have made some inroads in the urban areas with issues like school choice, for example. But, more work needs to be done and many more issues need to be presented and tackled as our state and nation continue to experience changes in demographics.
While Florida is divided on who we wanted in the White House, we also reflect the nation in other ways – Republicans hold 30 of the Governor’s seats (actually picked up a net gain of one in 2012) and a majority of the state houses in the rest of the country, much like they do here in Florida. And Florida’s congressional delegation is overwhelmingly Republican to Democrat with a margin of 17-10. Our two U.S. Senators split down party lines. With the GOP in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate narrowly divided, again Florida is reflective of the nation.
Voters are Ignorant (and that’s putting it nice)
This election may also be a measure of how few Americans – including Floridians – understand about basic economic principles and how prosperity is created. Four years ago, President Obama told us he would cut the national debt in half. At that time it stood at $11 trillion. Today, the debt is at over $16 trillion and is projected to be $20 trillion by the end of Obama’s Presidency. And this does not include the future promised liabilities of Social Security and Medicare. When those are counted, our national debt balloons to $100 trillion. This is a dangerous path we are on.
Given the election results, it is obvious that most Americans, Floridians included, don’t understand – or pay attention to – the biggest threat to the survival of this country. Hint: it’s not the taxes, it’s the spending. Though certainly we need a fairer, simpler tax code with less (how about zero) loopholes – to encourage savings, investment and economic growth. As we look across the pond to the problems nations like Greece, Spain, and others are experiencing, it is troubling we appear headed down the same path. So, while Florida reflects America, our hope is that we won’t one day reflect Greece.
I’ve laid out some ideas here. We’re all laying out ideas. We’re all scrambling for solutions – not just for conservatives to win, but for America to win. I don’t have all the answers. I may not even be asking all the right questions. But I do think some of my suggestions are moving in the right direction (yes, pun intended) for how we can win back the hearts and minds of our country and also win elections. But if you are a like-minded thinker and you’re not doing you’re part – you’re part of the problem. If you don’t have the time, surely you have the money – invest in a project. And really, make some time. A little volunteering would surely make our founding fathers proud. They – and so many Americans since them – have sacrificed much more for their country than most of us can ever lay claim to. If you want a good government, if you want a free society, this is a Republic. It’s all a matter of who shows up. Count yourself lucky to be a part of the American experiment. There’s nothing else like it in the history of the world. Don’t let our generation be the one who spoils it.