Why the New Organizing Institute is The Left’s New Death Star Aimed at the Republican Party

(That’s no moon! – promoted by Rob “EaBo Clipper” Eno)

So the left had another crucial conference this past week – but unlike Netroots Nation – this one was smaller and more focused on technology and organizing. It was still about 1,600 people. While I did go to Netroots this year in June, I decided not to go to Rootscamp in DC this past weekend. (I can handle using “gender-neutral” public restrooms only so many times in one year.)

However, while Netroots Nation was intimidating, I feel that Rootscamp is far more scary to those of us who believe in free markets and free people. I look at what the New Organizing Institute is doing (Rootscamp is their showcase) and feel like I am watching the Death Star being built. This article is going to be about NOI, Rootscamp, the technology/organizing nexus on the left, and what we – the people who believe in personal responsibility – should do about it.

No, I didn’t go, but fellow Republican tech guru Patrick Ruffini did, and his content, along with others’, and my research, was enough for me to write about it all.

(Yes, Charlie Baker should have sent someone – even if just for the fear factor. There were certainly MA Dems there.)

If you don’t have the time to read this whole article, I will summarize here:

The left is developing a broad and deep community of people who know how to use new and very effective organizing technology and techniques all over America. The right doesn’t get this because we don’t understand that this stuff scales up to millions of people, and can easily swing statewide campaigns over to their side. (I believe this is already happening.) NOI, along with Organizing for America, are teaching thousands and thousands of Democratic activists to use these methods and they are going to defeat us all over America. We are doing nothing like this, and all of the wealthy Republican organizations (AFP, Koch, CrossroadsGPS, Leadership Institute, etc) are getting ready for a 20th century mass media war with a little social media fairy dust sprinkled on top. While we do that, NOI is teaching the left to reach out and get to know millions of voters – individually – in a very personal way and manipulate them into supporting their causes in such a compelling fashion that our billions of dollars in television ads will change few of their minds.

(read more after the jump…)


1. Thanks to Patrick Ruffini

2. About the New Organizing Institute

3. Rootscamp This Year

4. Do We Have Anything Like This?

5. What to Do Going Forward

1. Thanks to Patrick Ruffini, a brave man

Patrick Ruffini is a right-wing political/digital/technology organizing guy. (@PatrickRuffini on Twitter.) He works for Engage, the digital strategy firm that became well known for their fantastic presentation on the Obama 2012 campaign, Inside the Cave. Their firm also made headlines for helping the conservative party (called liberal there) in Australia get elected. Patrick also spoke at RightOnline this year – the only major conference we have in the Republican world on technology and politics. He went to the Rootscamp conference last year.

This year, he decided to not only attend, and post to Twitter what he saw there, but he also decided to… do a presentation there? The reason this was even possible is that Rootscamp is an “unconference” where people submit topics, and people on the Internet vote your sessions into appearing. (They used Google Moderator for this.) His session was called, “”The right invades Rootscamp! In 2012, a handful of us Republicans crashed your big post-election party, and it was life-changingly awesome. One year later, what have we learned?”

I was not totally sure what he was trying to accomplish with the session, but I think he probably gave a good impression that we’re not all idiots on our side, despite how things look in the politech press. It was quite a high-wire act, but some good reviews came of it.

I enjoyed seeing this tweet from an attendee during his session:

Oh – Patrick did a whole, nice storify summary from the show here. It doesn’t include all the best stuff, but is a good place to start. Go back in time through his Twitter feed for everything.

2. The New Organizing Institute

I was speaking to one of the most well-known conservative activists in Massachusetts this week and he hadn’t even heard of NOI. Insane. (He’s going to end up like the people on Alderan.) They are a 30-person shop that is dedicated to teaching organizing and technology to every liberal Democrat in America. (OFA has massive fellowship program too.)  NOI is well-funded and has an annual show, Rootscamp, to bring everyone together. This show was such a big deal that it was opened by our own Senator Elizabeth Warren, and featured a session by New Jersey Senator Corey Booker.

NOI, as an organization, innovates in the following ways: they keep the focus on small-scale organizing, and not politics, per se. They absolutely get – unlike us – that organizing is almost entirely technology-based these days. And, they put almost all their stuff out there online for anyone to use. I can’t overstate how important that last point is. They have figured out that it’s far more important to reach as many Democrats as possible than to worry that a handful of Republicans will see their great materials. It’s a worthwhile tradeoff that I have been advocating on our side for a long time. They also focus on mastery of unsexy stuff, like Microsoft Excel – a tool most people have that is good for working with voter and supporter data.

I first saw them in person at Netroots Nation this year (pic below). They had a table at the exhibitor show and a good presence there. I was impressed by these people, and told them so, with complete sincerity. After a young, female, African-American activist at the NOI table spoke to me about “data scientists” on their side, I thought, “We’re dead.”

I highly recommend perusing their stuff on their website.

3. Rootscamp

So what actually happened at this year’s two-day show? They had some caucus sessions – meetings for specialized groups, and a lot of great presentations about sophisticated campaign techniques. No surprises on the caucus front – but they did have one called, “Technology and Programmer Caucus.” Wow.  They also had almost all of the organizing groups on their side as sponsors. (Look at the sponsor list on the Rootscamp site.) I think they have at least three times the number of these kinds of enabling organizations as we do.

Here are some highlights from the show content:

National Federal Campaign Staff Study

NOI decided to get all the salary and indicative data about campaign staff for federal campaigns all over America and release it. Link here: http://neworganizing.com/conte…

Interesting stuff from the study:

– Obama had 1,000 on payroll. Romney 126.

– The Democrats have vastly more staff nationwide. Ruffini summed it up in this tweet:

– The Republicans pay better.

– There is no significant gender gap

– Ruffini joked on Twitter that perhaps Democratic campaign staff should be paid “prevailing wage.” 🙂

Analysis from McAuliffe-Cuccinelli Virginia Governor’s Race

After seeing the content from that session, I felt like McAuliffe would have have lost without his amazing technology and tools. BlueLabs and others at the show talked about the incredible sophistication of their methods, such as how almost all their Facebook ads were specifically designed to improve their GOTV lists. Also, this Tweet from Ruffini shows how they even used analytics to show where field offices should be:

Not only that, their predictive models were so good that they could predict ahead of time for each person whether canvassing would be successful, but did two passes anyway to further optimize their models.

Oh – and the turnout and surprising low margin of victory for McAuliffe? They weren’t surprised. BlueLabs Final Prediction: McAuliffe +3.3. Voter turnout was off by around 25,000.

More campaign pornography from them:

– They had seven different predictive models

– They showed how their built their analytics shop

– They improved their persuasion models to increase efficiency of field by a factor of 7?!

More stuff from Patrick:

Not only do you come away from stuff like this feeling that those guys are operating at a whole other level than us – they are literally showing it all to activists so they can go do it too.

When was the last time you saw a major Republican campaign sharing this stuff with activists? I know. NEVER.

I could go on and on about the content of the show, how incredible it was, but I think I’ve made my point here.

4. Do We Have Anything Like this on the right?


The people, skills, and tools that we have on the right are locked inside the world of private consulting groups. It almost never sees the light of day. So, I am admitting that some of it exists. But if our activists can’t get it, it doesn’t count in this new world. If BlueLabs can be paid $200K by the McAuliffe campaign and then go out and share most of their stuff with the activists, we can do that, too.

What about RightOnline? Yes, we have an annual conference for conservative activists online. But it is very small, has one track, and is maybe 4 years behind what they are doing – not only in terms of content – but reach. RightOnline sponsor Americans for Prosperity – which has the money and presence – can do much better than this.

On that subject, I did a lot of research into what’s out there on our side, in terms of resources. We have groups that could do this kind of training, such as AFP, the Koch Institute, CrossroadsGPS, The Leadership Institute, and maybe a few others. But they aren’t doing that. I don’t know if the answer is that one of them (maybe AFP) gets serious about this, or whether we need a new organization to do that. Probably a new one.

Can RNC CTO Andy Barkett save us?  I don’t think so. This is a center-and-periphery issue. This kind of innovation probably can’t be done in the gridlocked center of Republican politics and the national committee.  (The DNC can’t really do it, either, even though some OFA appointees are embedded there these days.) I think you need private money, vision, and accountability to do something similar.

5. What to do going forward

I know. Any of you who work on Republican campaigns is just sitting, slack-jawed, and saying to yourself, “Oh. my. god. What are we going to do about this?”

I’m going to put this in bullet form instead of a long piece of prose:

Get to know NOI. Their stuff will inspire you. If you use their stuff, at least credit them somewhere to show respect.

Demand transparency from your campaigns. Demand sharing of data. Keeping everything secret is killing us. We are not learning from each other. Everyone re-invents the wheel.

Spread the word among Republicans that organizing==technology.

Make an effort to get good at a piece of this puzzle (programming, Excel techniques, mapping, analytics, field efficiency, email techniques, fundraising, social media) and share what you have learned.

Improve your social media consumption by muting the voices that just photoshop President Obama into communist military marches, and instead follow more political technology organizations.

If you have influence, tell the big conservative groups to get into this stuff! If you know anyone at AFP, Koch, or anyone else – send them this article or a link to NOI and tell them we must get serious about this kind of training.

Final words: Ultimately, we need a culture change. Even if we had the resources to put on a big show like Rootscamp, who would speak there? Who would go? Do we even have 1,600 activists who would travel to Washington to consume it? We need to, as individual Republicans, commit ourselves to the new world of campaigning. We need to shift our efforts from social media sharing to campaign skills. We need to pressure the people around us to get with the program. Because the Death Star is being built and it is going to be aimed at your next campaign. Will you be ready?

About edfactor

  • all over my head, but you made the case for how important it is, and how ill equipped we are to compete.  So go figure with all the tech savvy for organizing they could botch Obamacare web site so bad.  More proof it was designed to fail to force us to single payer?

  • edfactor

    A Republican friend of mine asked me, in so many words, “Who does this?” He then said that I am constantly bashing the far-right (as I define that) and wondered who is going to engage in this right-wing tech revolution, since, as it appears, the far-left is the crowd embracing all this new organizational/tech stuff.

    A very good point! I will give a long answer.

    First, the people involved on the left doing amazing things in this area (MoveOn.org, NOI, OFA) are not exactly a bunch of centrists, to be sure. In fact, as I documented at Netroots Nation, this people seem to be way out of the mainstream. For the most part, that’s true. And also, the funding for these groups appears to be from wealthy liberals and lots of small contributions from liberal Democrats. However, I don’t think everyone involved is a liberal Democrat, and I am confident that many of the people participating in this training and using the tools are not the far-left. In addition, they have created an ecosystem of tools, techniques, and culture that any centrist or conservative Democrat can use. However, that isn’t a big dent in the argument.

    Second, while my articles have focused on who would fund or lead this counter revolution on our side, I didn’t describe who everyone else was who would participate in this. I really hadn’t give that much thought.

    After all, taking my friend’s point to the extreme, what would our version of Rootscamp be? A conservative tech conference held in Dallas, funded by Freedom Works, with a gun show in the exhibit hall, evangelical sermons in the morning, a giant impeachment petition in the lobby, and a late afternoon protest of a nearby abortion clinic? I am joking here, but that’s probably what a far-right version of Rootscamp would look like.

    But the real question is this: does it have to? If the tech movement on the right needs to be staffed by the activists we have now, then it probably does have to mirror their politics, and not my more pragmatic, blue-state brand.

    However, that won’t happen.

    Let’s take the Tea Party as an example. This group, which came of age in the world of the web with social media and cheap organizing tools and none of the baggage of the Republican party, should have been the tech-savvy counterparty to MoveOn.org.

    But it wasn’t. Why? Demographics and geography. The strength of the party was in the south and west and among middle-aged people that weren’t into technology. So sure, they are a bit more tech-savvy than the hapless RNC, but they were totally unable to leverage technology to any similar degree than even Occupy Wall Street did. They just weren’t the right people and weren’t living in the right places where tech was native. The Tea Party has shown no ability to expand in the cities or among the young or among those living in the tech corridors. So they still aren’t a tech-savvy movement. Oh, and to save time, the die-hard religious conservatives, while they have been around for a long time, have the same demographic disadvantages.

    What about the libertarians?  A more complex case study. They have been more tech-savvy than the rest of the Republican party for a long time. I don’t have data for this, but they have been far more comfortable using technology, and incredibly effective at spreading the message about their beliefs online. They are pretty good at organizing – the best in the Republican Party, for sure. As they are – according to many surveys – a young and male movement, they are in a much better demographic situation than older folks. They still don’t tend to live in cities or in the tech corridors in significant numbers. Also, while they are savvy about using tech to get the word out, I have seen nothing from them that is anything like the MoveOn/Change.org/NOI/OFA crowd. They are web-savvy but they aren’t programmers or uber-organizers in any significant numbers. However, of all the activist groups in the Republican Party, they are the best source of people for a tech revolution in the people that we have.

    However, I believe that our real problem is that the entire party is lacking in the demographics and geography we need to find enough people to do what we need to. I think that while the libertarians are a good start, we need to draw in lots of new Republicans from the cities and blue states. Those people will be the fresh recruits we need. I know lots of programmers who don’t like government too much but can’t handle the religious-inspired culture war of the Republican party. (They would probably like the libertarian value proposition more than that of the RNC, in its current form.)

    That all being said, we do have enough money and enough tech-savvy people like myself in the party to at least get the ball rolling. But sure, my friend is correct, the discussion will soon turn to who we enlist to make all this happen. We should start with the libertarians and the techies who have become unhappy with the party, and then figure out how we find more people in the right demographic groups to join the party, and help us with technology.

  • …is getting their a**es handed to them from a party the GOP ridicules as a socialist organization…the truth is the Dems are running circles around the competition.  I’ve always said that how many GOPers don’t walk the walk.  You guys are getting beat soundly by the competition.

    And thank you Ed for the work you put into this.

  • edfactor

    I guess NOI somehow saw the story and this was their response in Twitter, which made me smile:

  • How about a “Patch like platform” that allows local republican town committees to  create a website.

  • RWB

    I am very concerned about this advanced technology being in the hands of those that oppose us I have been to the NOI site and it was eye opening, (in my own way I will spread this knowledge farther).  

    I am very interested in creating ways we can work together. I believe that we need each other more than any of us wants to admit.  Do any of us want to have the same congressional delegation in 2015?  How do we make that happen?

  • edfactor

    So… NOI just did a blog post and fundraising email just on this article. Link here.

    I kind of hoped that the national Republicans would react to this, and not the NOI. (Perhaps they still will.)

    They (NOI) were good sports about this, and thanked me via Twitter for being a good sport also.