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?

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