Last weekend Politico posted a piece by Maggie Haberman titled Enthusiasm is Key in Ohio Ground Game. Of course, the title shows that the article is in essence dead wrong, that it wasn’t analysis, it was a story, political coverage as theater criticism, because enthusiasm is not the key to any ground game. Enthusiasm makes it a heck of a lot easier to implement your ground game, but you can often make up for low enthusiasm with more money; you just pay for your ground game entirely rather than implement it with volunteers. What’s most important for a ground game is sufficient resources and a sound plan led by skilled staff. That’s why this line stunned me:
The Romney campaign says it’s exceeded its weekly door-knocking goals, and bases its turnout model on people who have voted in every election, as well as those who registered to vote in the primaries…
I tweeted that line, and several experienced field people who follow me on Twitter had the same incredulous reaction: No. Way. that could be the Romney strategy. The consensus that emerged between us was that the article had to be wrong, that there was no way the Romney campaign’s plan was to focus on turning out people who if the campaign did nothing would still turn out on their own. Any rational GOTV program focuses on people who you have good reason to think will vote for your side, but who, if you don’t push them to vote, may not make it to the polls or get their absentee ballot mailed in and counted.
Well, as the last few days have shown, there’s actually good reason to think the Romney campaign actually was deluded about the composition of the electorate, and they may–I’m still having a hard time accepting they were this estranged from realty–they may have thought there was little they needed to do, that there were so many people who hadn’t voted in 2008 that now so hated Obama that Romney’s turnout would take care of itself, and–and here’s their bigger error–there were more people who shared their view of Obama than there were who believed it was worth sticking with the president for another four years.
As a matter of empiricism, this was obviously a staggering failure. But it’s not something that was caused by, or can be fixed by, technique and technology. This failure is an extension of the problem at the heart of today’s Republican party: It’s a bunch of white people, many more men than women, who are angry about change and who refuse to adapt to the America that is more cosmopolitan, culturally and racially diverse than the America of their nostalgic fantasies, where white male privilege was the unquestioned norm.
Back when David Souter announced his retirement, Barack Obama mentioned that one of the qualities he wanted in his nominee was empathy. The Republicans went crazy. Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick wondered “when the simple act of recognizing that you are not the only one in the room [had] become confused with lawlessness, activism, and social engineering?” It was a rhetorical question, but there actually is an important answer: it was in the 1950’s and 1960’s and the years since, when the civil rights movement, the gay rights movement, and–these two are the most neglected but most important foundations of the culture wars–the feminist movement and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965–profoundly changed America. White men, and culturally conservative white women, were not denied a place in the room that now included brown and gay and foreign-born and non-Christian Americans. But rather than agreeing to “share the room” with people different from then, too many white Americans viewed any room not belonging exclusively to them as run wild with, as well as created by, lawlessness, activism and social engineering. They did not want to legitimize the fact that they were not the only one in the room.
The Republican party’s politics of exclusion, wedge issues, race-baiting and culture wars are based on appealing to the shrinking share of Americans who don’t want to share the room. Now it looks like their polling and field organizing are also based on the assumption that they’re the only ones in the room.