Conservative activists Patrick Ruffini, Joh Henke, & Soren Dayton have recently joined forces to launch a new conservative web site called The NextRight. Its purpose? Here's the editors' pitch:
The Next Right is the place for wired activists to build a new Republican Party and conservative movement. As a community-driven grassroots action website for the right, we'll feature in-depth political analysis, on-the-ground reports, and strategic discussion and debate.
Ruffini makes a compelling argument for his new site. In fact, what makes me excited about the possibilities is Ruffini's clear understanding of political paradigms & how said paradigms can affect the success or failure or movements or political parties (emphasis mine).
It’s no secret that the right operates at a severe disadvantage to the left when it comes to building online political infrastructure. People point to ActBlue and Obama’s massive fundraising advantage, but the problem cuts deeper: netroots activists on the left have built critical mass around an idea that regular people on the Internet can get their hands dirty and remix Democratic politics. They not only raise money. They recruit candidates. They fund full-time investigative journalism to ambush Republicans. They act as a party whip, creating consequences for Democrats who, in their view, don’t act like Democrats. They volunteer and flock to states with key races. The right can build all the tools it wants, but without a narrative and a rallying point for action, it will be for naught.
Part of the problem is structural. When the conservative blogosphere first emerged, we were in the midst of a political upswing, with back-to-back-to-back victories in 2000, 2002, and 2004. Political activism wasn’t going to be a comparative advantage for the right online. Most were content just being pundits or media critics. This trend was reinforced by the blogosphere’s success in scalping Dan Rather, part of a series of new media-driven events that arguably changed the trajectory of the 2004 election.
Ever since then, a radically different set of circumstances has dominated our politics. It’s one that requires a substantially different response — one that requires us to stop being pundits and start being change agents.
Put simply, the party, and in many cases, the movement, has lost its moorings. Earmarks exploded ten-fold, and it wasn’t under a Democratic Congress. In this winter’s primary, we saw the once mighty fiscal-social-national conservative coalition turned in on itself, with economic conservatives pitted against social conservatives. And too many of the “experts” in the Presidential campaigns this cycle failed to modernize the way the party does business, clinging to the old top-down rostrums of direct mail and fundraising-by-cocktail-party in an increasingly networked and crowdsourced world.
It’s no wonder that Joe Conservative outside the Beltway feels that none of his self appointed “leaders” are listening to him. He looks to Washington and sees a leadership class that is too often arrogant, timid, divided, and technologically behind the curve. It’s no wonder why this year more than most his wallet has been sealed shut when it comes to supporting Republican candidates — even the good ones.
Here's my take on the segments of Ruffini's article highlighted by me:
1) COMMUNITY: The advantage currently held by the Democrats is due, in part, to the sense of community inherent in the Democrat paradigm. Thus their activists find it easier to adapt to the netroots when they've had a vertical network already in place (unions, NGOs, advocacy groups, & so forth). It also empowers the True Believers to bypass the DINO (Democrats In Name Only) gatekeepers/powerbrokers & thus bring a higher level of interest, energy, & activity to their party. The current Democrat Presidential Primary is an excellent example of this paradigm shift in action where the “establishment” candidate (Clinton) is close to being bested by the candidate (Obama) who embodies the hopes & dreams of the liberal netroots activists. Republicans can replicate this template but it can only work if Republicans unite AND embrace their conservative factions as part of a genuine community (neither an exclusively virtual one nor an imaginary one created by Madison Avenue RINOs). A REAL community of conservatives will no longer need its own gatekeepers/powerbrokers (specifically RINOs – Republicans In Name Only) who have contributed to the degradation of the GOP brand. Embrace authenticity; ditch the RINOs.
2) IDEOLOGY: Ruffini is spot on regarding the importance of a “narrative”. At the heart of any political narrative is ideology. A practical ideology provides the existential framework from which springs the kind of issues that act as a “rallying point for action,” as Ruffini cogently argues in his article.
3) ACTIVISTS: Ruffini understands that GOP activists can no longer be content to be spectators (“pundits”). Conservatives must be proactive “change agents” if they want to make a genuine difference in politics. In Massachusetts, the state GOP has at times in the past encouraged the “man on the white horse” approach where a wealthy individual is expected to “save” the state from itself. Such an approach seldom worked & allowed conservatives/Republicans to absolve themselves of the responsibility of acting on their own initiatives. Activists must create their own opportunities for success in politics.
4) CONFLICTS: As I mentioned in my other post (“Beacon Hill Republicans Act As Democrat Enablers”), RINOs have helped to pit one conservative faction against the others. Said factions are partially responsible for allowing this state of affairs to go on as long as it has. All conservative factions need to recognize how much they need each other. Said groups can't & won't win by themselves. They must learn to work together in order for them to beat their common foes: liberals, Democrats, & RINOs.
5) CANDIDATES: As good as a conservative/Republican candidate is on paper, s/he won't win so long as said candidate has no sense of community, has no ideological vision, has no network of committed activists, & is a person whose political party has become a house divided against itself & estranged from the public. Such is the case today with the state GOP & its national counterpart in Washington.
We’re calling the site The Next Right because much of this story will be written in the future tense. Our analysis will be as much about looking ten and fifteen years down the road as it will be about dissecting the mechanics of the 2008 contest. What are the coalitions, strategies, and tactics the right needs to win again? How does the party need to change to attract a generation of voters who could very well be lost to us if we don’t move fast? Where do we find the candidates who will lead a resurgent right in the 2010 and 2012 elections and beyond? The vibrant discussion Soren, Jon, and many others had about the future of the movement last spring and summer would be perfect fodder for this new venture.
If you’re looking for pure-play opinion and link bait on sundry topics from Ann Coulter to Jimmy Carter/Hamas, you won’t find it here. What you will find is in-depth (often unabashedly technical) writing about the election, the polls, the strategy, and the issues. Our analysis will track truth and stay true to the numbers. But it will self-consciously serve a greater purpose — educating YOU to be your own political strategist and start doing something — whether that’s blogging about your local Congressional race or Democratic corruption in your state, organizing fundraising drives, and maybe even managing races or running for office yourself. Only a revival of civic engagement at the grassroots level will create a conservative future we want: one that is pork-free and robust in the defense of our country and its values. We can’t call a switchboard and wait for Washington to fix the mess. We have to do it ourselves, from the ground up, in every state.
Ruffini closes his article with an astute observation which I wholeheartedly endorse:
We don’t think this alone will solve the activism gap. Anyone who tells you that they alone have the answer is fooling you. This is not “the Daily Kos of the right.” What we’re hoping to do is create momentum and an intellectual framework for action — because action ultimately starts with narratives and ideas. We want grassroots conservatives and libertarians to start believing that they can make a difference again — a sense all too many have lost. Only you – and not some well-funded 527 — can bring the movement into the future. Only when grassroots conservative have a direct stake in the future of the party are we effective. The Next Right is about creating a vision for a 21st century Republican Party and conservative movement.
Check out http://www.patrickruffini.com/2008/05/07/introducing-the-next-right/ for more details.