Putting merit aside, there's quite a bit to the Republican National Committee's game plan for the next few years, some of it rhetorical, some of it structural. But listening to Reince Priebus and reading the report he released yesterday, it's clear the party is prepared to heavily invest to close the "digital gap" with its Democratic rivals.
That certainly seems like a sensible idea. What's controversial, however, is who the RNC is teaming up with as part of its efforts. The Wall Street Journal reported the other day:
The Republican Party is working with Silicon Valley investors on a venture, backed by political strategist Karl Rove, to create a digital platform for targeting voters and donors, an effort that is adding to tensions between the party's establishment and its insurgent wings. [...]The Silicon Valley venture, led by former Bain & Co. executive and private-equity investor Richard Boyce, with Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy serving as an adviser, is part of a core team working with the RNC to develop a central digital campaign tool that all Republican candidates and organizations can use in future elections.The venture has won a prominent backer in Mr. Rove, the former White House adviser, who presented the group's plans last month to a who's who of Republican campaign groups.... The Rove-supported venture hasn't been distilled into a legal entity, and participants say its mission is still being refined. But one executive involved said the intent is to create an interactive platform with multiple applications to digest the GOP's trove of data on voters, so that campaigns can better identify, persuade and motivate supporters.
It's not altogether clear whether Rove has endorsed a tech venture established by others and is now encouraging his party to embrace it, or whether Rove was directly involved with the venture's development.
And while those details certainly matter, there's an overarching question that arguably matters more: why in the world would the Republican National Committee still be listening to Karl Rove?
"The billionaire donors I hear are livid," one Republican operative told The Huffington Post. "There is some holy hell to pay. Karl Rove has a lot of explaining to do ... I don't know how you tell your donors that we spent $390 million and got nothing."
Conservative activist Richard Viguerie said at the time that "in any logical universe," Rove "would never be hired to run or consult on a national campaign again."
That was less than five months ago. Now, the Republican National Committee is eager to get back on track, so it's investing in a Rove-backed venture.
Because his other ventures have such a good track record?
In 2000, it was Rove's idea to keep George W. Bush in California in the campaign's waning days, instead of stumping in key battleground states. Bush lost California by a wide margin, and Rove's strategy practically cost his candidate the election.
In 2006, after nearly getting indicted, Rove's sole responsibility was overseeing the Republican Party's 2006 election strategy. He told NPR in late October that he'd found a secret math that gives him insights that mere mortals can't comprehend, and soon after, Democrats won back both chambers of Congress in a historic victory.
And in 2012, Rove's Republican attack operation spent nearly $400 million and lost just about every race it contested.
But in 2013, the RNC is ready to start spending again, investing in the kind of modern tech infrastructure it'll need to compete. That Republicans are turning once more to Karl Rove is a development that probably makes Democrats very happy.