With the transition from a Republican president who sucked all of the air out of the room to a Democratic president who gets propped up and wheeled out by his handlers, it is worth looking beyond the putative party leaders to examine the party establishments on both sides. Let's do this the way that McKinsey would.
First, who is the client? Each party has a few hundred national movers and shakers who determine the direction and make things happen. They are politicians, celebrities, donors, thought leaders, and bureaucrats. Some like to be in the public glare; many do not. There is an undercurrent of ideology, and a lot of occasional hoopla, but success comes from effective organizing and managing the people and institutions competing for power.
1. Party leadership. For at least a decade, Nancy Pelosi has been the most impactful politician in America. She owned President Obama's signature achievement of Obamacare. She long outlasted John Boehner and Paul Ryan. Faced with a revolt from the left, she was able to explain to AOC that running primary candidates against sitting House Democrats was not acceptable, and that Pelosi would deliver most of AOC's agenda. She controlled the impeachment process - twice. She drafted the Coronavirus responses, even when the Senate and presidency were Republican.
The Republicans have no counterpart, except perhaps Donald Trump who brings a strong personal following, but no demonstrated success or apparent interest in managing a legislative agenda or protecting vulnerable members of his party. Mitch McConnell is a master of Senate procedures, but his success has been largely limited to getting federal judges approved; he has had less success enforcing party discipline than has Chuck Schumer who is getting much of Pelosi's agenda through the 50/50 Senate.
Among the professional party staff, Trump loyalist Ronna McDaniel was reelected party chair without opposition at the January convention, avoiding conflict while the former president assesses his future, and negating breathless media calls for a party fracture. As a thank-you to Congressman James Clyburn who brought his presidential campaign back from near death in March, President Biden tapped failed Senate candidate from South Carolina Jaime Harrison to lead the Democratic party structure.
2. Fundraising. According to Open Secrets, Democrats raised and spent $8.4 billion in 2020, compared to the Republicans' $5.3 billion, with the total more than doubling 2016. Part of the advantage is due to Act Blue, a web site which allows small donors to contribute to candidates nationally raising $1.5 billion, more than twice the Republican counterpart, Win Red. Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer led the Democratic billionaires; the leading Republican contributor, Sheldon Adelson, died in January.
Modest advantage Democrats.
3. Key staff maintenance. The number of key Biden administration officials returning from the Obama administration highlights the fact that these folks get sequestered somewhere when their party loses the White House. The Right has the Heritage Foundation, the Koch Brothers' Cato Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Hoover Institute and many others; the Left has the Brookings Institution, the Center for American Progress, the Council on Foreign Relations, George Soros' Open Society Foundations, the Earth Institute, J Street, and an extended list similar to the Right's. The Trump administration relied on outsiders, particularly generals, but both parties have plenty of interested talent available.
4. Media relations. Republicans are in decline with the deaths of Fox News' Roger Ailes and talk radio king Rush Limbaugh, and the emergence of liberal social media moguls - Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook; Jack Dorsey of Twitter - as the arbiters of what is acceptable for private citizens to discuss, to the extent of censoring the president. Add Jeff Bezos' Washington Post which will fabricate stories of illegal phone calls by President Trump and the New York Times which fired an editor for printing an oped by a sitting United States senator, and there is a growing Democratic advantage.
5. Data management. Barack Obama's 2008 campaign pulled ahead in harnessing "big data" for political purposes, but Reince Priebus' GOP made this a priority, and had superior donor and voter information to hand off to candidate Trump in 2016. Now both know from GPS phone tracking whether a voter goes to a mosque on Friday, a synagugue on Saturday, or a Christian church on Sunday and from grocery bills whether they like dogs or cats.
6. Candidate recruitment. Unlike AOC, Nancy Pelosi and Republican management understand that the candidate must fit the district. Despite President Trump's loss and defending 35 open seats, the House Republicans gained 15 seats in 2020, with 15 first-time women winners in what Nate Silver projects to be a prelude to capture of the House in 2022. In the Senate, the Republicans who must defend 20 seats to the Democrats 14, have had five announced retirements to none for the Democrats, but favorable geography to challenge for the necessary gain of a single seat. With a majority of state houses and legislatures, the Republican pool is deep.
7. Campaign management. Success at the state level demonstrates that there are plenty of good campaign managers in the Republican Party; albeit Trump had difficulty in 2016 and again in 2020 maintaining the necessary relationship. Team Biden's decisions to reach for a lifeline from James Clyburn and subsequently to hide in the basement were apparently correct.
So, with that list of relative strengths and weaknesses, what should be the priorities for Ms McDaniel, Kevin McCarthy, Mitch McConnell, Charles Koch, Nikki Haley, Mike Pompeo, and the other Republican Party leaders?
1. Coach Donald Trump into retirement. Perhaps give him a task of developing a conservative replacement for Twitter and Facebook.
2. Maintain election integrity.
3. Tweak fundraising - increase awareness of WinRed; cultivate replacements for Sheldon Adelson; make sure that Charles Koch carries on without his brother David who died in 2019.
4. Smooth the path for strong candidates in a dozen Senate races and two dozen House races. Coach secondary candidates out; provide money.
5. Trust that post-Covid and post-Trump the American people will get tired of the cancel culture and the drumbeat of victimization, and turn to the party which sees America as the land of opportunity, and the people as basically fair.
bill bowen - 3/18/21