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Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
One thing that is a little bit overlooked is the extent to which building a good ground game relies on years of investment, in staff but also in technology: building voter databases and interfaces, and making them useful in the field. It’s just clear not only that the Democratic Party was ahead of the Republican Party in 2012 but also that the ability of the Republican Party to narrow that gap or to overcome that gap has been significantly undermined by the fact that the party nominee has not prioritized investing and catching up here.
One side of this question of campaigning is: Where do you place your bets, where do you invest your money, what is your messaging in terms of strategy and organization?
But you can’t buy this off the shelf. You can’t order a good database even if you have all the money in the world. You can’t just go to Amazon and buy a perfect voter file and the technology to put it to use. There is an important question of whether the Republican Party is falling even further behind in having an effective infrastructure for an effective ground game and a competitive ground game.
So when Kellyanne Conway admitted that the Trump campaign was behind in building a ground game, but that they weren’t going to give up, you’re saying the damage has been done.
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen
The damage is done. You can’t unfurl a cutting-edge ground operation in such a short period of time. There is no question about that. That is simply impossible. You can always invest and always improve, but you can’t possibly put together the kind of operation or the kind of infrastructure that it would require to have a fully competitive organization.
The fundamental issue here is that when you think about American political parties, there is no centralized decision-making. The only time you have that is when you have an incumbent president who will run for reelection.
We saw this very clearly in the 2000s. George W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 2004 was the most sophisticated, well-organized, and professional campaign in a long time. It was an extraordinarily well-run and well-thought-through campaign in part because they knew who the candidate was going to be. They could fundraise. They could invest. They could collaborate with the state parties and other actors. Again, the 2012 Barack Obama campaign was a similar story: It was a very well-run and professionally organized and well-thought-through campaign in part because of the fact that they knew who was running and they could build the organization around that.
But if you are out of power and you don’t have a presumptive nominee, and then you have a primary process that leads to a candidate that then is regarded with some skepticism by many of the players you need to line up — but also if that candidate, in particular, himself does not chose to catch up — then it becomes very difficult.