Sounding like a Seeing the Forest regular, in A Party Inverted, former Senator Bill Bradley today describes how the Right has built a network of organizations that have become the foundation for the Republican Party, and how this structure supports their candidates outside of the election cycle. This is a must-read!
To further the party’s ideological and political goals, Republicans in the 1970’s and 1980’s built a comprehensive structure based on Powell’s blueprint. Visualize that structure as a pyramid.
You’ve probably heard some of this before, but let me run through it again. Big individual donors and large foundations – the Scaife family and Olin foundations, for instance – form the base of the pyramid. They finance conservative research centers like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, entities that make up the second level of the pyramid.
The ideas these organizations develop are then pushed up to the third level of the pyramid – the political level. There, strategists like Karl Rove or Ralph Reed or Ken Mehlman take these new ideas and, through polling, focus groups and careful attention to Democratic attacks, convert them into language that will appeal to the broadest electorate. That language is sometimes in the form of an assault on Democrats and at other times in the form of advocacy for a new policy position. The development process can take years. And then there’s the fourth level of the pyramid: the partisan news media. Conservative commentators and networks spread these finely honed ideas.
He describes how this structure supports candidates. The Republicans have this massive structure in place so it doesn’t really matter who they run. As I have said here, just look at who they run and tell me they are better candidates!
At the very top of the pyramid you’ll find the president. Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine.
It is not quite the “right wing conspiracy” that Hillary Clinton described, but it is an impressive organization built consciously, carefully and single-mindedly. The Ann Coulters and Grover Norquists don’t want to be candidates for anything or cabinet officers for anyone. They know their roles and execute them because they’re paid well and believe, I think, in what they’re saying. True, there’s lots of money involved, but the money makes a difference because it goes toward reinforcing a structure that is already stable.
To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate.
Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on. Unlike Republicans, they don’t simply have to assemble a campaign apparatus – they have to formulate ideas and a vision, too. Many Democratic fundraisers join a campaign only after assessing how well it has done in assembling its pyramid of political, media and idea people.
There is no clearly identifiable funding base for Democratic policy organizations, and in the frantic campaign rush there is no time for patient, long-term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas. Campaigns don’t start thinking about a Democratic brand until halfway through the election year, by which time winning the daily news cycle takes precedence over building a consistent message. The closest that Democrats get to a brand is a catchy slogan.
This understanding of how much the Right is doing outside of the election cycle that directly affects elections is so important to get. From Win or Lose,
The Right’s machine is not oriented around the election cycle, it is constant, yet this is why they win elections. Their organizations provide a drumbeat of propaganda all year, every year, working with the latest PR and marketing techniques, utilizing the latest research into the psychology of persuasion, exploiting the latest trends, etc. Because its marketing is constant, their politicians have it easy — they just show up and echo the ideology that this machine has been pumping out and ride along on the rest of the resulting public opinion. Their politicians are almost interchangable, their work having been already done for them by the organizations, they have only to show up and say the right things and they have an automatic base of support.
Moderate and Progressive politicians, on the other hand, have to develop their positions each election cycle largely on their own, and communicate their ideas themselves. Everyone blames the Democratic Party for lack of vision, lack of marketing, etc. when the problem really is that there is not a comparable network of moderate and progressive ADVOCACY MARKETING AND COMMUNICATIONS organizations that are OUTSIDE of the party apparatus, supporting it, feeding it ideas, foot soldiers and voters.
Organizations on the Right, like the Heritage Foundation provide talking points, training, media skills, and most important, farm teams — EMPLOYMENT for thousands of “foot soldiers” for the Right! Almost everyone on the Right is paid, and paid well (which serves to buy their loyalty to the core group of funders, their ideology and their goals.) They follow a long-term approach, which is why recruiting lots of young people and finding them paid positions as foot soldiers is an important part of their operation. Eventually these people will become activists, candidates, etc. And by having an employed stable of professional pundits, speakers, activists, etc., they are able to bring their “wurlitzer” to bear on any issue at any time, as necessary.
So the question here is why doesn’t “our side” have a similar infrastructure in place? I’ve spent a lot of time studying this problem and have developed some theories. And I have some ideas about how to begin to counter what the Right is doing.