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On Prudence In The Virtual Campaign

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After listening to yesterday’s broadcast of many of the questions in the queue for the GOP YouTube debate, blogger Publius has changed his mind and now agrees the GOP should say no thanks to the set-up. May many more follow.

Patrick’s lengthy post below is a fascinating exercise in missing the point. I am glad that Patrick posts here in the virtual house of one of the fellows blinkered to the need for the GOP to embrace the web, but he is ignoring the real dilemma the campaigns are confronting and refusing to visualize the worst case scenario. Summary of his argument: “We are very, very, very far behind on the web. So run into this wall.”

Patrick writes:

At the end of the day, the issue is not YouTube. The YouTube debate snub is the symptom, not the disease. If Republicans fret about a simple debate format, which is really just the modern version of the 1992 townhall debate, how in the heck are we going to be make the really bold, gutsy decisions to transform our campaigns so we can raise over $100 million online and recruit millions – yes millions – of volunteers over the Internet?

Skipping a CNN set-up camouflaged with YouTube videos is a symptom of wanting to win, that’s all. Don’t believe me, go visit the question site, and this is before the moonbats, egged on by Arianna and Josh Marshall, begin the inevitable push to salt the mine after any of the major candidates agree to appear at the circus. I hope the candidates step up and bluntly announce that they are connecting with millions of Americans and will continue to do so, but won’t agree to be props in a CNN carnival. Some staight talk about MSM’s dumbing down of the campaign –and the war– would be an excellent thing to hear.

I must also dissent partially from Patrick’s more persuasive argument about lagging behind Democrats in the online campaign.

First, did he see what happened to the immigration bill? That was a grassroots phenomenon, one which overpowered D.C. elites. It represented the combination of online advocacy and talk radio energy. It suggests not that the center-right base is behind when it comes to connectedness, but that it isn’t yet fully motivated to use the tools it has already mastered in the servioce of any of the GOP presidential candidates or their Congressional counterparts. Many are, but many are waiting to see who has the message that motivates. (That message: Win the war. Confirm the judges. Cut the taxes. Control the spending. Secure the border.)

Second, the GOP’s Big Two have excellent web teams and a visit to and will prove that. What neither candidate has –yet– is the momentum of being the certain nominee (as Hillary does) or the backing of a swooning old media, like Barack Obama. So Joe Trippi thinks we are behind. I like Joe, and shared a fine lunch with him at the NAB in Las Vegas a few months back. He’s a smart guy, but not that smart. He’s worried about the GOP’s virtual gap? Why isn’t he working on the Dems talk radio gap? Because he can’t fix that, of course, whereas the GOP already trounced the Dems once in an online match-up in a main event.

Money? How many of Obama’s 100,000 donors are going to shrug their shoulders and turn over to Hillary when they see their guy scissored the old fashioned way by Clinton Inc? And many of Edwards people aren’t going to be dancing with the same old gang that has run the Clinton operation since 1991.

What the GOP lacks right now is not just some internet talents and a commitment to use them, but a much more fundamental commitment to an agenda that motivates and candidates that believe in it. See this post for my agreement that the GOP is fumbling campaign 2008 in the House and Senate.

The most important thing is of course a sense in the broader public that the war is going the right way, and that the GOP is committed to victory and not to the round-heeled nervousness that marks many of the most visible members of the Senate GOP. The energy that animated the Bush-Cheney turnout and win in 2004 can be recaptured, but not by a Gordon Smith or Pete Domenici-led GOP, nor by plans to do deals with Senator Kennedy and ignore the border or by the defense of earmarks or the refusal to push back at Chuck Schumer’s extra-constitutional announcement concerning SCOTUS nominees. ( He wants to shut down the advise and consent process? Then shut down the Senate –that’s what the center-right in this country is waiting for, the evidence of conviction as to agenda and determinationas to tactics.)

There is a great tendency to overvalue the skills we personally excel at. Patrick and many other online bright lights of the center-right appear to be reacting to the evolving decision to pass on the set-up as a personal slight when it is fact a prudent bit of campaign management in a campaign marathon nearing mile 3. CNN showed us how it manages such a format, and the goofy, biased parade isn’t one we want to march in, and for perfectly acceptable reasons that say nothing about the candidates’ commitment to online activism.

There is also a great exaggeration of the left’s hold on the web. As both Dean and I have argued in other places, the lead pipes the left constructed to move their virtual information are slowly but surely poisoning their netroots. The Micahel Moore-Loose Change people are an important part of the virtual energy that worries Patrick. Al Franken and Randi Rhodes are heroes in that part of the virtual world. That’s not an advantage in the campaign ahead. May they grow in numbers and prosper in their influence. Long may Glenn Greenwald launch attacks on General Petraeus and Josh Marschall and Matthew Yglesias rally to the cause of Scott Thomas Beauchamp.

Smart and steady –online and offline– are the hallmarks of a mature but vigorous campaign. MSM wants the candidates to get into the YouTube arena, and they’ll want a whole bunch more of whatever brings them viewers in the months ahead. They probably want Duncan Hunter and Joe Biden in Dancing With The Stars, and Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul on celebrity Jeopardy.

What we should want are candidates willing to go to every serious forum the schedule allows and debate at length and in detail the top Democrats. If CNN scrapped their carnival and instead convened a great panel and invited Senator Clinton, Edwards, and Obama and Mayor Giuliani, Senator McCain and Governor Romney to a joint appearance and exchange, I’d say go.

But, please, talking to the man legally named Santa Claus and living at Lake Tahoe isn’t a sign of online sophistication, and refusing to do so isn’t surrender in the virtual campaign.


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