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Liberals Hope to Replicate Conservative Moves

A few years ago, conservative leader Morton Blackwell issued a missive, urging Republicans to "out" consultants who opposed the RNC’s renewed emphasis on get-out-the-vote — their 72 Hour Task Force. Now it seems the liberals are hoping to replicate his success in pressuring consultants to change their ways.

Morton, who had been pushing the RNC to embrace grassroots GOTV efforts for decades, knew Republicans needed to change their tactics if they were to continue winning elections. Polls in the late 90s consistently demonstrated that Democrats were "out-performing" Republicans on Election Day. The reason was obvious: Democrats (and labor unions) had done a better job of turning out their favorable voters on Election Day.

In 2001, The New Yorker described the Morton’s efforts to renew the Republican commitment to grassroots campaigns:

"Ten days after the election, Morton Blackwell, a former national executive director of the College Republicans, who had been out of touch with Rove for years, picked up the phone and heard that familiar booming voice on the other end of the line: ‘Morton, how does it feel to have advocated something for decades and have it come true?’ What Blackwell had been advocating for decades, ever since he trained the teen-age Karl Rove to be a field organizer, was that people in politics should pay less attention to consultants, television advertising, polls, and ‘message,’ and more attention to the old-fashioned side of the business: registering voters, organizing volunteers, making face-to face contact during the last days of A campaign, and getting people to the polls on Election Day. Soon, Rove had launched a project called the 72-Hour Task Force, which conducted scientific experiments in grassroots political organizing during the three days before Election Day in five geographically scattered races in 2001."

While Morton advocated this change for decades, he keenly understood that correcting the problem would require more than just talking about the positive attributes of grassroots campaigns — it would require a cultural paradigm shift encompassing the very nature of how Republican campaigns are run.

The inherent problem was a conflict of interest: It was in the best interest of political consultants to ignore grassroots politics in favor of media-driven campaigns.

Here’s why: Consultants make their big money from media buys. They don’t make money from encouraging their clients to run grassroots campaigns. So if you’re a consultant, it is in your best interest to encourage your clients to ignore grassroots and focus on spending money on media. Morton’s purpose in calling out Republican political consultants was to send a message that opposing the RNC’s move toward embracing grassroots would have consequences.

Of course, the RNC’s 72 Hour Task Force was hugely successful, and part of the credit goes to Republicans, like Morton, who were able to hold their political consultants accountable.

Today, Democrats are hoping to replicate Morton’s approach toward political consultants. Liberals like Markos Moulitsas, who runs the DailyKos blog, have recently encouraged liberal bloggers to begin holding Democrat consultants accountable for their clients. This seems a bit strict, as consultants, by definition, are paid to give strategic and tactical advice (not ideological) which the client can either accept or reject.

Most recently, the National Journal’s Hotline On Call blog posted a letter from the United Steel Workers which lists the names and phone numbers of consultants working for conservative Democrat Henry Cuellar (D-28), and calls on labor unions and Democrat campaign committees to contact Cuellar’s consultants and tell them to "Drop Henry Now."

But while Morton pushed for decades to change Republican’s political tactics, today’s liberals are seeking to instill a strict ideological adherence to "progressive" orthodoxy.

Whereas Morton’s efforts have led to electing more Republicans, the liberals’ heavy-handed attempts, should they succeed, will only lead to a monolithic Democrat Party which continues to be viewed as out-of-touch by most Americans.

Written By

Mr. Lewis has managed political campaigns and served as director of grassroots for the Leadership Institute, as well as political director for GOPAC. In 2002, Campaigns & Elections magazine selected him as a "Rising Star of Politics." He is the author of "Teaching Elephants to Talk." His blog can be read at MattLewis.org.

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