I’ve been in software development for over a dozen years now. Some of the projects I’ve been on have succeeded and others have failed. One of the key components of the software development lifecycle (SDLC) and one that often gets forgotten by project teams is the “lessons learned” review at the end of a project. If often is ignored because software design has become more like movie making: just as with a movie a project brings together people to work on a single goal then disperse after that goal is complete. The lessons learned on that project are usually put together as an after-thought by project managers and analysts who will never work together again, handing the results over to an organization that will file them away on a network drive never to be read. But for a sponsoring organization such documents are key to future success. All software designs face similar constraints and road blocks, and the way those constraints are handled and the road blocks overcome can help insure the next project’s success.
Over the past months I have had a very bad feeling about this election. I touched upon this feeling some in “Ending Radio Silence” but I have felt bad about Romney’s chances to win since mid-Summer. In April my instincts or gut told me that Romney would win, but by July that feeling had dissipated. I think it was ultimately due to Romney’s personality. He showed fire in the belly during the primaries when he was up against Newt Gingrich and the rest of the field, but that fire disappeared. It’s an intangible thing this fire, and I would have a very difficult time explaining it to the man if we shared a coffee together, but Romney lost it after he clinched the nomination. Instead of looking like Reagan in 1980 he began to remind me of Kerry in 2004. It wasn’t just the ability to inspire the opposition, Romney as out of touch wealthy guy and Kerry as Vietcong sympathizer that gave creative impetus to their respective oppositions, it was his failure to connect with voters in a way that Reagan could but Kerry and Romney could not. This fire I suppose is a type of charisma, and both Kerry and Romney lacked it while Reagan and Clinton had it.
So from a lesson’s learned perspective the GOP thought they had a candidate with charisma and fire but they were fooled. The lesson learned here is… well I’m not sure there is a lesson here other than what you see in the primaries is no guarantee of what you get in the fight for the general election. The red flag should have been the fact that he didn’t fire up the party base the way he should have, made clear by the effort to find “anyone but Romney” in fall 2011 through the early primaries.
This leads us to our first lesson learned: Choose the candidate that fires up the base of the party regardless of their perceived chances to win the general election. A candidate that inspires the base has shown he or she possesses charisma. The party faithful will be the first to sense that charisma but it will eventually spread to independents and even Democrats. One thing the GOP establishment has forgotten is that Reagan was liked by many Democrats not for his policies but simply because he was a charismatic leader. This charisma makes the caricatures the Democrats will paint of the GOP candidate seem hollow and less effective during the campaign.
Instead the GOP establishment has focused on electability which, in a center-right country like the US means the most “liberal” conservative around. It’s interesting to consider that both the Democrats and Republicans have failed most of the time they have tried this strategy (for the left this means choosing the most conservative Democrat). In 2004 the Democrat establishment sunk the Howard Dean candidacy in favor of the “more electable” John Kerry, throwing away the excitement and energy the Deaniacs brought to the party. After Kerry lost, the Deaniacs did the smart thing: they took over the Democratic establishment and encouraged Barack Obama’s candidacy against the “more electable” Hillary Clinton in 2008.
This leads to the next lesson learned directly related to the first: The party establishment must get behind the candidate that excites the base the most and ignore “tenure.” For some reason this is more of a problem for the GOP than the Democrats. The Republican establishment is big on backing the candidate “whose turn it is” rather than the one more popular with the base. This points out the divide between the party establishment and the party base. Since 2008 the base has been more conservative, more radical than the establishment, and the GOP has done its best to neuter that excitement to avoid being seen as extremist.
Here’s another lesson learned: The Democrats and the mainstream media that backs them will paint whomever the GOP selects as their candidate as extreme so ignore electability. Mitt Romney is a liberal Republican who was turned into a blood-thirsty paleo-conservative industrialist. The GOP could nominate Angelina Jolie as their 2016 standard-bearer and the Democrats would turn her into a racist, crony capitalist who adopts internationally to avoid paying adoption fees in the US for her unpaid personal assistants. As long as the candidate has charisma that inspires and displays a will to win, electability follows; it doesn’t work the other way around.
Fire Reince Preibus and everyone above the title of webmaster at the RNC. This election should have marked the end of the progressive era in America, instead the progressive movement has new life. Not only did the GOP fail to take the Senate it also lost seats in the House. Whatever decisions the RNC made, including calling me three or four times a day everyday for the past month and even a 6pm call on Election Night, failed. If these guys don’t fall on their swords by lunchtime Tea Partiers should storm their offices on K Street and put them to it – metaphorically of course (well…)
Surrender on illegal immigration and amnesty. Obama said it himself that it was stupid of the Republicans to throw away a few million votes. Less than that swung the election. It’s time for the GOP to give up the fight on illegal immigration even if that means accepting amnesty. Why? Because the Hispanic vote is a better fit in the GOP than it is in the Democratic party. Hispanics are culturally very conservative. They tend to be very religious and for the most part are hardworking. Who do they compete against for jobs? African-Americans and low-skilled union jobs, both which back the Democratic Party. Hispanics do not take away jobs from highly skilled white men that tend to vote Republican, so why not add them to the party? They aren’t taking away my job, and I could use a few to lay a concrete footer for a wall outside the window right now. Cut the deal as soon as possible with the Democrats, and open the border to Mexico if necessary. The only groups that will suffer are Democrats, and by the time 2016 rolls around the GOP will have a new group in its base.
As the Wife noted, too many people see the Republicans as a bunch of anti-gay Bible thumping nut jobs beholden to Wall Street and the wealthy. This indicates the success the Democrats have had defining their opposition. As Jon Markman at the Wall Street Journal notes, the stock market has done much better under Obama than it did under Bush while the gap between rich and poor has widened under this president compared to his much maligned Republican predecessor. Yet people still believe the GOP serves Wall Street interests, ignoring the reality that Wall Street loves Democratic policies of shoveling tax payer cash into the markets, and that Wall Street has enjoyed a windfall from fees charged union pensions for risky investments.
The lesson here is that the Republican Party needs an image makeover, returning to the party’s humble populist roots referred to in Nixon’s Checker’s speech when he referred to his wife Pat owning a “respectable Republican cloth coat.” The average Republican earns less than the average Democrat, yet the GOP suffers from an image of being the party of the wealthy. These facts must be publicized. Come up with a plan that stresses the core values of what it means to be a Republican. What are those values? As a Republican myself, I’m not sure what they are – and that’s the GOP’s fault. But I would guess it can be boiled down to a government that supports you when you need it but gets out of your way when you don’t. Something like that. In the past we’ve used “small government” but what does that mean to the average American? Get specific. Publicize that the GOP is not trying to poison our drinking water and air, it’s removing unnecessary regulations and helping industry work with the government to provide jobs while protecting the environment. The GOP isn’t against health insurance, it’s for making health care cheaper by encouraging competition between providers, insurers and the government. The party needs a PR campaign so that my Wife can stop writing me texts that say “I’m embarrassed to be a Republican.”
Like many in the party I’m an ex-Democrat. I’ve voted for more Democrats in my life than Republicans and performances such as this election by the GOP makes me regret my current affiliation. The Republican Party apparatus just seems clueless, naive and downright stupid when it comes to winning elections. Democrats know how to win, and they will do everything it takes to do so. The GOP needs to absorb the Progressive Playbook, Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. This book has driven the progressive movement since Alinsky published it in 1971. Alinsky’s Rules are immoral. Their purpose is to not to put up a fair fight. Their purpose is to win. Here are the rules:
RULE 1: “Power is not only what you have, but what the enemy thinks you have.” Power is derived from 2 main sources – money and people. “Have-Nots” must build power from flesh and blood.
RULE 2: “Never go outside the expertise of your people.” It results in confusion, fear and retreat. Feeling secure adds to the backbone of anyone.
RULE 3: “Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.” Look for ways to increase insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty.
RULE 4: “Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter gets a reply, send 30,000 letters. You can kill them with this because no one can possibly obey all of their own rules.
RULE 5: “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” There is no defense. It’s irrational. It’s infuriating. It also works as a key pressure point to force the enemy into concessions.
RULE 6: “A good tactic is one your people enjoy.” They’ll keep doing it without urging and come back to do more. They’re doing their thing, and will even suggest better ones.
RULE 7: “A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.” Don’t become old news.
RULE 8: “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.” Keep trying new things to keep the opposition off balance. As the opposition masters one approach, hit them from the flank with something new.
RULE 9: “The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.” Imagination and ego can dream up many more consequences than any activist.
RULE 10: “If you push a negative hard enough, it will push through and become a positive.” Violence from the other side can win the public to your side because the public sympathizes with the underdog.
RULE 11: “The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.” Never let the enemy score points because you’re caught without a solution to the problem.
RULE 12: “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions.
There is nothing in these rules that Machiavelli himself, or perhaps the late GOP strategist Lee Atwater would avoid doing. Read these rules. See how they have been used against Republican candidates and causes. Absorb them. These rules and the book itself are completely non-partisan: they can be used just as effectively against Progressives as against Conservatives.