Several years back I worked for a state Republican Party running a Victory Center, or local campaign headquarters. I devoted more to that job than I had to any job prior and more than I have to any job since. The hours were nine to nine Monday through Friday, nine to five on Saturdays, and near election day several hours on Sundays. Initially, I was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to contribute to a cause about which I cared very much. Moreover, it didn’t hurt my ego to be interacting on a regular basis with people I had regularly seen on television and their close advisors.
During my initial state of humility, I found myself taking in every bit of knowledge the “experts” for whom I worked imparted to me. When I was told to do something, I did it, and did it as well as I could without question.
However, I couldn’t help but notice that much of what I was asked to do seemed, frankly, stupid. I asked for explanations from my direct supervisor, who was actually competent. He (eventually replaced by a “she”) informed me that “experts” had devised our strategy, our call scripts, and everything else. They knew exactly what they were doing. Anyone who questioned them was a moron.
“Do you really believe that?”
“No. You’re right. It’s stupid. I’m just told to tell you that.”
I found we were introducing ourselves as Republican during calls when we should have brought it up later in the conversation, but we weren’t announcing we were Republican when it would have made sense to say so up front. We used a push-poll format when honest opinions would have made our database more accurate. We were instructed to mark people as “pro-life” if that’s what they answered in response to our question, even when it was obvious they had no idea what that phrase actually meant. (These folks would later receive “sanctity of life” pamphlets in the mail). We could get pizza and only pizza for our volunteers; one guy who got ice cream instead (spending far less than he ever did on pizza) was chewed out. We had no flexibility about which script should be used for which type of volunteer; at one point we were forced to ask new volunteers to use a “universe” (the type of voter selected for a specific call list) full of dead people. Being told, “Why the hell are you calling here, you bastard, my mother died three years ago?” five times in an hour might not bother a hardcore volunteer, but it’s hardly the ideal way to get a new one to return.
“Just use the scripts we give you. We know what we’re doing.”
The State Party Heads in State Capitol were flummoxed about why we were having such a tough time finding and keeping volunteers. Those of us in the field who interacted with people tried to explain why: flawed political strategy, little flexibility about how to use volunteers, etc. They ignored us and instead gave us a call script with which to call ostensible Republicans to recruit them. The call script required us to ramble on for 35 seconds about the sorry condition of our state before asking any questions or giving the recipient a chance to speak. When this script was correctly followed, to my knowledge not a single volunteer or campaign worker made it through more than fifteen seconds without being hung up on.
On a conference call, one of the mid-level field directors dared to call into question the perfection of this script. He was berated in the harshest of terms, told he didn’t know what the hell he was talking about, that the script’s language was perfectly crafted based on focus-group responses and expert political communications experts who were such experts at the relevant expertise that anyone who dared to question them again would be fired. My job just prior to this was in the US Army, an organization with leaders far more likely to accept criticism from its lower levels.
But we were making a lot of phone calls, more phone calls than had ever been made before, for in the prior election phone calls seemed to have made the difference. The law of diminishing returns didn’t apply.
The local Major League Baseball team made the World Series for the first time in ages. I saw articles about Democratic election efforts in both our state and that of the opposing team (another swing state) discussing how they were working extra hard early in the day so as to not bother people during the baseball games at night. Our instructions? Call. More than ever, both day and night. Interrupt people during the game, and it’s your fault if nobody wants to volunteer those nights. Also, follow the script to the letter so that the person testily answering the phone when it’s three and two with two out and two on in the bottom of the eighth knows that the person annoying the hell out of them is a Republican the instant they pick up the phone.
Still, there was a surety in the manner and behaviors of my superiors that led me to think that perhaps they were right. After all, I was no “expert” myself. I just saw one small piece of a much larger puzzle. These people had devoted their entire lives to politics. They had to know what they were doing. I got an e-mail with all sorts of charts and internal polling data stating that there was no possible way at all that we could lose this election.
Very shortly after the election, we got another e-mail informing us that there was no possible way we could have won, for the political environment was so hostile to Republicans that victory was completely and utterly out of reach. The strategy that had been implemented was the best possible. Insurmountable headwinds. Just one of those things.
I got laid off, as did virtually every other person who worked his or her tail off in the far flung reaches of the state. As far as I know, every person who worked normal business hours in State Capitol either kept his or her job or was promoted. The guy who berated his underling for questioning the call script was snatched up by the RNC. His boss now works for a high-powered political consulting firm. My immediate supervisor, who did an extraordinary job of managing multiple impossible operations hundreds of miles away from each other, went on to manage a Target.
One of the cardinal rules of politics is that “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In the State Capital, they knew each other quite well, often in the biblical sense. Those of us hundreds of miles from the State Capital never had the chance to partake of the parties, after-work happy hours, and love triangles because we were alone in our Victory Centers, getting screamed at by hardcore leftists who somehow ended up in the fiscal conservative “universe.” For our efforts (we implemented our orders remarkably well), we received a grateful pat on the head, but we were not yet insiders and thus not in any position to expect rewards for losing. Advancement opportunities were reserved for those directly responsible for the loss.
During the “turn in your equipment” party after the election, our superiors failed to ask our opinions about how we might have done things better. After all, they were experts and we weren’t, so there would have been little point.
Entirely of their own volition, my volunteers sent letters to the Party Chairman suggesting that the party find a role for me of some sort because I was so good at working with people and was such a great face for the Party. But there were simply no positions to be had. We needed every expert in State Capitol to stay on board (save those promoted to Washington) so we could use their expertise in crafting our next campaign strategy. (You’ll be shocked to learn that this next election was equally successful.)
Some time later, the Party Chairman went on a “listening tour” around the state, and I attended when he came to a town nearby. Those who attended were angry with him; he was visibly annoyed with them. “Why didn’t we make sure people knew about the awful thing the sitting Democratic governor did?” asked a volunteer. “We sent out a press release but nobody reported on it,” answered Party Chairman. “How about that other ridiculous policy of the governor? Why didn’t we even bring that up?” asked some impertinent slob. “We can’t make the press report on what it doesn’t want to report on” said the expert. “Those call scripts were idiotic!” said another backwoods rube. “We’ll work on better scripts for the next cycle,” replied the expert, for there was not so much as a hint indicating the scripts were inadequate that could have possibly been detected until after the election.
I’m sure they did a post mortem of sorts after I was gone, but I suspect it was either done by the very people responsible for the loss or others beholden to them. I seriously doubt it contained anything equivalent to “the people who hired us to write this should be fired immediately and never work in politics again.” How’s anybody going to get to write more election post mortems if they say offensive stuff like that?
Thus I learned during my tenure as a low-level political operative that there is in fact a culturally unified Republican Establishment, certain of its own superior wisdom, expert in data collection techniques but oblivious to how calling people during the World Series might be counter-productive, impervious to viewpoints that contradict its own. It consists of people who decided in high school that they wanted to get into politics, interned in State Capital or Washington, met all the right people (with plenty of pictures to prove it), found mentors who immersed them in “how things are done,” and were socialized by their frequent proximity to powerful people to believe that they are in fact better than you.
This is perfectly natural. Imagine a mediocre public school teacher who’s taken oodles of education classes and knows the fancy name for every educational technique known to man encountering some schlub on the street who thinks he’s somehow got what it takes to teach. You think it will actually matter if he’s able to connect with the kids and inspire them to learn? Hell, no — if the kids do better under the upstart than the expert, that just means the kids are faulty. Your betters have gone to the right schools, studied the right charts, have the right friends, and know enough jargon and acronyms to make your head spin. If an untrained yokel like you somehow managed to have an idea that’s better than theirs, it would destroy their entire sense of self.
So yes, it makes perfect sense for the political class to despise both Trump and his supporters (as they have Cruz, Palin, and others before). You see, Trump does things he’s not supposed to do, he’s not a political “expert” like they are, and thus has no business gaining so much support.
Yes, it’s ridiculous that a political neophyte who’s supported Hillary Clinton and single-payer healthcare, has called Bush “evil,” and believes God-only-knows-what about dozens of issues he hasn’t even addressed is leading in the Republican primary.
A competent political class would see this as evidence that they’re doing something wrong. Ours sees it as a defect among the voters, for there’s no conceivable way it could possibly be the fault of those in charge. They’re experts. They know what they’re doing. GOP voters need to grow the hell up and accept that.
Keep this in mind the next time they call Trump, or anybody else for that matter, arrogant.