Can Social Media Help the Republican Party?

Great article on Ars Technica today on this very topic!

After experiencing defeat at the hands of Barack Obama’s networked Democratic Party, a number of young Republican strategists have been arguing the future of the Republican Party will be found using social media.

While author Julian Sanchez believes deeper soul searching might be required to bring the Republican Party back to power, his article provides some interesting background on the discussions surrounding the GOP’s online future.

From Ars Technica:

Since the humbling results of the November election came in, the conservative movement has been scrambling to assess what happened—and to figure out how to prevent it from happening again. Much of this effort, in light of the Obama campaign’s much ballyhooed online operation, has focused on closing the technology gap with the left, and getting conservative candidates and activists to make better use of new media. Hence we see sites like Top Conservatives on Twitter, meant to publicize co-partisans on the popular microblogging service and encourage others to sign up.

The most prominent of the restructuring efforts, though, is Rebuild the Party, brainchild of a group of Republican online strategists who are pushing the idea that adapting to the Internet must be the GOP’s top priority over the next four years. They’re proposing an ambitious goal of recruiting 5 million new online activists and insisting on a new openness that better integrates distributed grassroots efforts. In the past week, RedState founder Erick Erickson has laid out some more detailed advice to his fellow conservatives—heartily seconded by The Next Right’s Patrick Ruffini.

There are plenty of good ideas here, and this is clearly an area where the right needs to make up ground. We now know that strategists on McCain’s team actually proposed taking advantage of text-messaging, but were shot down because the idea seemed “undignified.” We also know, via the folks who model the blogosphere with an array of sophisticated statistical tools, that there was a lot of grassroots writing and activism going on that never got well integrated into the online activist “core.” And as I reported the other day, Barack Obama is looking at a huge advantage in supporters who are connected, and ready to push his agenda, on the Internet.  It’s absolutely true that they’ve got to play serious catch-up on this front.

But while Nancy Scola at TechPresident lauds Ruffini for avoiding “tool fetishism”—for recognizing that adapting to the Net is more about embracing a certain culture and worldview than about exploiting any particular gadget or social networking site—I wonder whether there isn’t a broader technofetishism at work here.  It’s not that they shouldn’t be thinking about how to do online organizing as well as the Obama team did, but at times the impulse to focus on modernizing tactics and strategy makes me think of the Microsoft execs convinced that the right ad campaign will finally convince people they love Vista.

Conservatism has much bigger problems right now than a paucity of Twitter skills. (I say this, for what it’s worth, as someone who’s often classified as part of the broad “right,” my frequent criticisms of this administration notwithstanding.) Front and center is that the end of the Cold War and a governing party that made “small government” a punchline has left it very much unclear what, precisely, “conservatism” means. The movement was always a somewhat uneasy coalition of market enthusiasts and social traditionalists, defined at least as much by what (and who) they opposed as by any core common principles. The Palin strategy—recapturing that oppositional unity by rebranding the GOP as the party of cultural ressentiment—is just a recipe for a death spiral. Conservatives don’t need to figure out how to promote conservatism on Facebook; they need to figure out what it is they’re promoting. To the extent that a new media strategy is part of opening up that conversation, great, but it had better not become a substitute for engaging in some of that painful introspection.

There are plenty of good ideas here, and this is clearly an area where the right needs to make up ground. We now know that strategists on McCain’s team actually proposed taking advantage of text-messaging, but were shot down because the idea seemed “undignified.” We also know, via the folks who model the blogosphere with an array of sophisticated statistical tools, that there was a lot of grassroots writing and activism going on that never got well integrated into the online activist “core.” And as I reported the other day, Barack Obama is looking at a huge advantage in supporters who are connected, and ready to push his agenda, on the Internet.  It’s absolutely true that they’ve got to play serious catch-up on this front.

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