Party Mechanics Matter

One of things I think many people don’t realize is how critical, at least for Democrats, party infrastructure is. If you’re thinking of running for Congress, the leadership (either the DCCC for the House or the DSCC for the Senate) vets you. If they don’t like you, they won’t support you, and might even run a primary challenger against you if they are threatened enough. If they do decide to back you, that’s when it gets interesting.

Yes, you get money, both directly from the party as well as access to Democratic donors. But that money comes with strings: it often must be spent on party-backed campaign advisors and consultants, who have a playbook of political strategems. That said consultants suck at their jobs is painfully obvious, but this is also leads to a lot of cronyism. As long as these apparatchiks can convince party leadership that their methods are sound, they can stay on the gravy train*. While you might think this would be difficult given poor Democratic performance, most of these advisors work on the campaigns of the leadership and thus are trusted–after all, it works for the leadership. Until, of course, it doesn’t.

That’s why a few years back there was a tremendous dog fight when Howard Dean took over the DNC. Say what one might about his politics (he is conservative), when he grabbed the reigns, he went all ‘Jesus and the money changers’ on the existing crop of consultants–who, by the way, had been installed by Clinton. When Obama became president, he really didn’t clean house, and guess who came back?

I’m not aiming this just at Clinton herself, but most of the people who run Clintonland, which has basically run Democratic DC, for decades (with some exceptions). That doesn’t include everybody who worked in Clintonland as basically if you worked in Dem politics for the past couple of years you worked in Clintonland. Didn’t have much choice. The responsibility falls on the people who ran it. Yes Obama was president for these past 8 years, but he never really created Obamaland outside of the White House. He should have, but…

That prelude is important to understand this by Christopher Hooks (boldface mine):

Sometimes the objection was, Who else do we have? Setting aside Bernie Sanders, the reason there was hardly anyone else in the primary is related to the reason that Clinton lost: Her strength with the dreaded “establishment.” Who would challenge the Clintons’ massive donor network — the great reservoir of Hamptons and Marin County money — and the support they could call on from the ossified bulwarks of Democratic Washington, such as the Center for American Progress, or the rapid response teams of the troglodytic and vile David Brock?

A new approach is needed — not just in developing candidates, but among the upper echelons of the party hierarchy in Washington. Too often these days, Democratic candidates hail from the donor class, from investment banks and the Beltway cocktail circuit — Evan Bayh in Indiana, Patrick Murphy in Florida, Phil Murphy in New Jersey. That has to stop.

Essentially, the field was cleared of a lot of candidates of various political persuasions (including Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Kristen Gillibrand, and Deval Patrick). No idea if they could have won either, but the point is Democratic primary voters never got to decide (boldface mine):

The term “invisible primary” refers to the attempts by important elements of each major party — mainly elites and interest groups — to anoint a presidential nominee before the voting even begins.

“The invisible primary is essentially a long-running national conversation among members of each party coalition about who can best unite the party and win the next presidential election,” political scientists Marty Cohen, David Karol, Hans Noel, and John Zaller write in The Party Decides, a 2008 book arguing for the centrality of the invisible primary in the nominations process.

Essentially, party insiders — elected officials, donors, interest groups, activists, and political staffers — are attempting to individually decide who they want their nominee to be, and often to coordinate with others in the party. These insider deliberations take place in private conversations with each other and with the potential candidates, and eventually in public declarations of who they’re choosing to endorse, donate to, or work for.

“These people who have a stake in the outcome aren’t going to just let it play out. They’re going to try to rig it in their favor,” says Noel, a Georgetown government professor…

Most of these announcements dribble out in the year before the primaries actually begin. Declared candidates, after failing to win support and raise enough money, often drop out during this period. Once the field has been winnowed down somewhat, a frontrunner is sometimes — but not always — anointed by the party.

(being Vox, this was about the Republicans, not realizing Democrats had the same problem…)

The only person who could afford to run against Clinton was Sanders: not only had he repeatedly won federal office as an Independent (and obviously without the backing of the DNC, DSCC, and DCCC), but he was 73 when he threw his hat into the ring–he simply had no fucks left to give. He could bring different people to staff his campaign. Not all of them would be good, of course, but, on the other hand, they wouldn’t have committed this clusterfuck (boldface mine):

The media have made much ado about the absence of a real Trump organization on the ground in the states, but has largely failed to interrogate the hype around the Clinton campaign’s ground operations. As the post-election day hangover wears off, an examination of the mechanics behind the Clinton’s get out the vote efforts ― reaching out to Clinton voters in key states at the door, on the phone or by text messages ― reveals evidence of what appears to be a pretty shocking truth. Clinton volunteers were inadvertently turning out Trump voters. Possibly in significant numbers.

Volunteers for the Clinton campaign in Pennsylvania, Ohio and North Carolina have reported that when reminding people to vote, they encountered a significant number of Trump voters. Anecdotal evidence points to anywhere from five to 25 percent of contacts were inadvertently targeted to Trump supporters.

This is a big deal because when voters are engaged by a volunteer they are significantly more likely to cast a ballot in an election. To make matters worse, because Republicans had a non-existent ground game in many areas this cycle, this powerful reminder from a Clinton volunteer to get out and vote might have been the only personalized GOTV communication these Trump voters received.

The campaign’s text messaging GOTV effort may have been the worst offender. Volunteers reported as many as 30% of the replies they received from voters they were urging to get out were Trump supporters.

Voter targeting is not a new idea, but over the past few cycles electoral field organizing has become intoxicated by the concept of using “big data” to microtarget voters. Just like Amazon knows what to show you on their front page based on your past purchases, the idea goes, campaigns should be able to predict who their voters are based on past voting behavior and other commercially available data that can be matched on the vote file. In the avalanche of stories and books about Obama’s two victories, commentators have credited microtargeting as a major factor in his success ― in our opinion, mostly unjustifiably.

The problem is the lack of actual data. General election voting choices are of course secret. Only a relatively small number of primary voters’ partisan choices are public record, and not in all states. The much-hyped commercial data, upon closer examination, is either not useful or simply not available for most voters. Most targeting choices are not micro, but macro, such as targeting African Americans or young people. When you’re winning by a large margin, as Obama did both times, you can’t go wrong with such choices. When you’re losing, however, certain macro-targeting choices amount to doing your opponent’s GOTV work for them.

These intra-party battles seem arcane, but they are very important, especially in close elections–and, let’s be honest, just about every election in this environment is going to be close.

Get rid of the losers in the Democratic Party apparatus.

And a fucking apology might be nice as well.

*One thing to note is that consultants typically make a percentage of television ad buys, meaning their campaigns will focus on tv ads and not other voter outreach methods.

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4 Responses to Party Mechanics Matter

  1. Actually, Mike, that’s not totally true about Sanders. He’s been a “real Democrat” ever since his first re-election campaign to the House, getting that same organization “clearance” from the Vermont Democratic Party. That’s why it was laughable when Clintonistas made their “not a real Democrat” claims. They knew better.

  2. This is what happened in 06 when the Democratics won the huge wave and took the house and won basically every close race except those that took Emily’s list money. The problem is sure the money is great in theory but they take over decision making and its funneled to friendly hacks that care more about losing the “right way” than winning.

    The party has been a joke. They are more worried what WaPo, Politico and NYT will think of how they win than actually winning.

  3. sglover says:

    Maybe you’ve already included this in your links; apologies if it’s redundant. But this seems like a pretty informed and convincing account of Clinton’s long game.

    One of the more interesting bits is its account of how HRC herself stoked up Trump, thinking him a misdirection from the real threat, **Rubio**. It’s a little hard to imagine Rubio as a threat to anyone, but hey, these are Clinton’s tactical reflexes we’re talking, here.

    The whole thing at least sounds plausible. But it makes me wonder if everybody’s making too much about the Trump mystique, the Trump phenomenon, what have you. Maybe a President Christie or Rubio or, God forbid, Cruz was just as likely. This election disaster is the natural outcome of running the world’s shittiest candidate to front for the universally beloved policies of neoliberalism and endless idiotic war.

  4. elkern says:

    Down With Tyranny blog has been beating this drum for years:

    Might have to dig down a ways, but there’s lotsa juicy dirt (huh?) on the DCCC in particular – how they have fought harder against Progressive Dems than against the GOP.

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