I keep thinking of an incident in Whitefish in 2010, when a burly guy with long white hair, tattoos and a mullet showed up at a female voter’s house with a gun on his belt and holding a clipboard. The woman called the police. The guy left. It was later discovered that the guy meant no harm. He was simply a canvasser, canvassing for the GOP.
Is this what the Romney campaign will look like when it knocks on your door? And can such a fighting force compete with the Obama legions of young and progressive volunteers?
Much is made of the Obama campaign’s famous use of technology and its massive, high tech organizing methods. But it is all rooted in an abundance of young, enthusiastic volunteers. They are the soldiers in the largest ground attack in the history of American politics in 2008, and though there’s plenty of talk of less enthusiasm in 2012, the fighting force, if smaller and slightly less enthusiastic, is still composed of certain basic types of people that the GOP does not have. Sure, Obama’s troops are not exactly average Americans. They are pretty liberal, sometimes very much out there. But they are closer to normal than Tea Party activists. And they are numerous, energetic, easily summoned, in love with Obama, and tech savvy.
Who are the Romney soldiers? Youths? Conservative young equivalents of Obama’s progressive soldiers? No way. Young voters are liberal nowadays. No such Romney army exists.
Frighteningly, Romney’s ground game, his fighting force, will be Tea Partiers. Older men, angry and on the fringe of society, conspiracy-theory minded, gun-wearing, Sasquatch hunters. Can such an army win a war?
It’s a huge problem for Romney. Even if he can find a way to motivate these citizens to walk neighborhoods for him (and it is unlikely that he can), will they be up to the task? Will they be able to operate the handheld devices that are now required for instantaneous information upload to campaign headquarters (standard gear among progressive organizers). Will they be able to behave appropriately at the door, and come across as at least marginally normal? Will they provide energy? Can they transmit enthusiasm? Can they be cool? And what such wing-nuts, who worship Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, will be able to knock on a door of a Latino voter and say, “Si, se puede!”?
That small incident in Whitefish has also played out on a much bigger stage in Montana. The Koch brothers have repeatedly failed to find a normal person, an organizer, to lead the Montana chapter of their national group, Americans for Prosperity (AFP). The current leader, just hired, looks like a confederate general, and wrote a book about how gays, the UN, and non-christians are leading America toward an armageddon. The previous leader of AFP, had been a senior member of a cult that built a $30 million underground bunker to prepare for the end of the world, which they believed would occur on April 23, 1990. The state Tea Party hasn’t done much better than the Kochs. One of the many leaders they’ve cycled through was showing up to legislative hearings dressed like a biker, with a bandanna on his head, jeans and a leather jacket, and posted violent rhetoric against gays on his Facebook page. He actually got kicked out of a local Tea Party group for being too right-wing, if you can believe it.
Compare this crew to the young women and men who have volunteered and organized in Montana for Obama. They have had graduate degrees, have worked in national organizations around the country, and possess a worldly view.
Meanwhile, Obama is plucking Silicon Valley start-up types to run the technology center of his campaign. Few such young, talented tech wizards have any desire to be a part of a Republican Presidential campaign, and so the pool of talent is very shallow for Romney. Even with the enthusiasm deficit that Obama is in relative to 2008, I do not believe Romney will be able to mount a ground game to compete. Romney’s deficit is greater, a deficit of youth, of soldiers, of tech talent. A ground war is won with soldiers, not imbeciles.