The New Rules
Michele Bachmann’s electric appearance before Iowa conservatives underscores that the rules that will govern the campaign of 2012 are fundamentally different than those which governed in the past.
Oh the primary calendar is roughly the same, and money will of course continue to play an enormous role and former Governor Romney’s advantage in this area is substantial.
The former leader of the Salt Lake City Olympics also enjoys an advantage deeply embedded in the genetics of the GOP: The party likes to nominate as its standard bearer a candidate who has mounted a serious bid for the nomination in the past. In my new Washington Examiner column I review that list –McCain in 2000, Dole in 1996, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Reagan in 1980 and Nixon in 1968– and note that the two exceptions came for an incumbent, Gerry Ford in 1976 and a nominee in W whose experience in the “family business” provided the same sort of assurance that the campaign’s wheels wouldn’t come off because of first-timer mistakes.
The Examiner column goes on to discuss the crucial difference between every other presidential campaign and now, but even when it is laid out by me and others I wonder if the permanent campaign establishment fully grasps how radically changed are the rules governing the nomination competition and after that the general election contest. Most folks nod agreement when confronted with the revolution brought about in media and related enterprizes by the rise of social media, but does the relatively small world of presidential campaign consultants and media handicappers grasp the enormity of the change?
An illustrative aside. Look what happened in London yesterday. John Hinderaker’s description of the rolling riot contains in it the latest warning that old authority structures are simply ill-prepared for immensely dynamic information flows:
As noted earlier, the London police and other authorities failed to foresee the violence–odd, given the fact that last time there was a major demonstration in London, radicals tried to attack the Prince of Wales–and, worse, they responded weakly when the violence spiraled out of control:
Anarchist groups had spent weeks preparing the action on Facebook and Twitter and even posted a map directing people to the time and location of where to attack shops.
So naturally the police were taken by surprise.
More than 4,500 police officers were on duty for the march but seemed powerless to stop the violence, which began when a group of activists bent on trouble peeled off into London’s busiest shopping area. After five hours of running battles, there were 75 arrests. At least 30 people, including five police officers, were injured. Police said the anti-capitalists threw lightbulbs filled with ammonia at them.
The authorities in London, like the authorities throughout the Middle East are flat-footed, always behind the chase for information, and the result is wild unpredictability.
The “authorities” who are running the GOP campaigns are smart, experienced professionals, but they are all fighting the last war, relying on a handful of “new media” consultants to wire ’em up and get that social media thing covered.
The technology shift is just a symptom of the political sea change, and even as the Beltway professional class ties to forget the townhalls of 2009 and the elections of 2010, the change is pressing in.
More after Monday’s Examiner column appears, but the grand strategists of Election 2012 are better than even money bets to have no idea what is ahead. Every campaign had better have set aside some time to consider just how different the rules will be.
I interviewed Steve Schmidt, the campaign general of McCain 2008, in late 2009. (The transcript is here.) He discussed Romney’s built-in advantage headed into 2012:
But the history of the Republican Party nominating process is that it almost always goes to someone who’s been around the track once before. And in that instance, in this instance, it would be Governor Romney. I thought he was a very scary opponent looking from the other side of the table in that he was almost like a learning organism at the end. He just kept getting better week by week by week, and kept becoming stronger. And I think these national campaigns are very unique, and I think most people learn a great deal with they go through them. And I think one of the reasons that President Bush was able to make it through the process the first time, unlike most people on the Republican side, is because he had been up close and personal through a couple of national races. And I think Mitt Romney is a candidate, is a far stronger candidate, prospectively, for the ’12 race because of his experience in ’08 than he was heading into the ’08 race.
The entire interview is a very useful reread now at the start of the 2012 campaign, but the key phrase Schmidt used is “learning organism.” That is indeed what every GOP would-be nominee needs to be, especially about how voters are acquiring information and what they are seeking in terms of information. The closed campaign team, built on assumptions based on campaigns past assembled by consultants who like to tell stories of 1996, will be as brittle and as unprepared for the cycle ahead as the London police and your average Arab strongman.