In a normal, practical world, after getting bludgeoned upside the head, smart people usually step back, appreciate their “teachable moment,” and ask, “What can I learn after this particular disaster to make sure it doesn’t happen again?” And so one would think it should be after the RNC and the Romney campaign . . . and Karl Rove’s Crossroads group. . . and the Koch Brothers. . . all combined spent several bank vaults of money on television ads, mail and phones, only to lose virtually everything in 2012. For those with a practical view of wanting ROI for money spent, this would be zero return on investment. Well, one would think perhaps lessons were learned from this. Certainly, in a practical, real world environment, behavior would be forced to change. But here’s our first lesson: GOP and center-right politics do not operate in the real world. It is something of an alternate universe.
After the Great and All-Knowing Oz, I mean, the Powers That Be, i.e. the consultant class, spent a bajillion dollars on paid media in a relatively close Presidential election (the difference between Obama winning and Romney losing was 66 Electoral Votes, or roughly 500,000 votes, spread out among four states), and very little on GOTV and grassroots in comparison, perhaps something constructive could come out it. We did conduct “autopsies,” right? And if you weren’t smart enough to figure it out with a little deductive reasoning, you could always read what the Obama team did, as they’ve been quite open about their winning approach to GOTV, grassroots and technology. I wrote about that here.
Unfortunately I’m here to tell you today that I’m pretty sure nothing was really learned from 2012. At. All. And by that I mean no wisdom was gained from the proverbial second kick of the mule (after the first one in 2008), this time again directly to the heads of both wealthy donors and the volunteer grassroots, which respectively fund and provide warm bodies to numerous entities on the Right. What comes to mind is a conversation earlier this year with someone who consults with large conservative and Republican donors, who confessed to me that most of them simply don’t have an inkling as to how it all works: the creative fees, the commissions of TV ad buys, social media buys, etc. Like late-night viewers picking up the phone to give to a televangelist so a miracle can occur, they just keep writing those checks and waiting for the magic to happen.
It helps that most of the individuals actually spending the donors’ monies are hoping to God that no one learns, so they can continue on their corrupt, consulting, merry way. And so far, so very, very good for them. Let me explain. At the Daily Kos the other week, and then in the New York Times, it was reported that in some of the key U.S. Senate races this year (2014), Democrats are spending upwards of eight times as much as the GOP on the “ground game” and valuable, live voter contact. Meanwhile, the GOP continues to spend lots and lots of money–truckloads of it–on TV and mail. This is the very textbook definition of scattershot versus narrowly targeted outreach, and a painful lesson we should be far beyond internalizing with the Community-Organizer-in-Chief in the White House. However, we are clearly not keeping up, by any measure. Which compels one to ask (if one has more than a handful of brain cells), why on earth does this continue? Why do “we” on the Right keep spending massive amounts of money on paid media (all the while funding a media infrastructure which is hardly a friend of the Right. I wrote about that here regarding the political bust of TV ads).
Well folks, I hate to sound cynical, but I’m going to: it’s called commissions. I know, I know, like Rick in “Casablanca,” I’m shocked that gambling is going on in this establishment. It’s a truism that most consultants (not all of them) spend money where they make money. And in the GOP, as Erick has pointed out here at RedState, we have a problem. The clever consultants, and by that I mean that more in the unscrupulous/devious sense, have truly mastered how to maximize their revenue–because who doesn’t need an extra house on the beach or lake…or the nicest car in which to attend all those two hour power lunches? As I often tell people, the consultants always win–even if their candidates lose. But don’t worry. There are other winners in the current scenario. Donors and grassroots win something as well: it’s called the chump prize for being played.
By all means then, if you like what’s happening both at the ballot box and in America today, feel free to keep those rivers of money flowing, from the sweat of your brow to the silk-lined pockets of a corrupt and uncaring few who call the shots as to how your hard-earned dollars are spent. Fund that lavish lifestyle again for consultant who just has to line up another money tree in the next election cycle to maintain it. But, if you’re not happy with how things are, maybe start thinking about how to change the game.
While I know and have friends who are consultants, and by all appearances, very ethical with how they spend clients’ money, the harsh reality is that donors, the people that write the really big checks, who fund campaigns and committees, might want to consider removing commissions from the game altogether. Pay consultants flat monthly rates, and if they win, put in a very large victory bonus. Like Pavlov’s dogs, you can be pretty sure consultant behavior will change accordingly. It’s like with mice and cheese: if you want the mice to change, move the cheese. People who win deserve rewards. What they don’t deserve is making bank while producing mediocre work and booking ad time.