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Republican Organization, Strategy, and Tactics

Commentary by Greg Lewis /
November 11, 2004

While what went wrong and what went right in the 2004 Presidential election will be discussed publicly for weeks to come on talk and news shows and on the internet, and while it will continue to be dissected in political strategy sessions for years, at just over a week's remove one thing stands out regarding what happened and why President Bush scored, if not quite a landslide, at least a resounding victory, one which swept several Republican Senators and Representatives into Congress in its wake and which gave President Bush something of a mandate.

Notwithstanding that, however, the Democrats argued vigorously that Republicans should "reach across the aisle" and seek to heal a nation which, as Kerry apparently had the temerity to lecture the President in his concession phone call to the White House on November 3, was riven by divisiveness. Well, in the wake of such self-serving lib balderdash, I'd like to take a look at the most decisive of the high-profile influences on the 2004 election.

Potentially juiced exit polls and other as-yet undiscovered election chicanery notwithstanding, what really won the election for President Bush was the fact that the Republican National Committee and the Republicans' chief political strategist, Karl Rove, simply out-politicked the Democrats. In a post-election speech, RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie cited several factors which his party identified and exploited to trump the Democrats at their own game: generating high voter turnout.

In particular, Gillespie enumerated several of the Republicans' strategic assumptions regarding the Bush campaign in this election, nor did he hesitate to compare them with what Republicans knew to be Democrat assumptions. Among the most important of these was that Repuboicans took it as a matter of faith that potential voters would be most likely to respond favorably to people they knew, people from their own communities, who exhorted them to get out and vote. Gillespie compared this to the Democrats' tactics, which overwhelmingly relied on "mercenaries"; that is, people who were paid to go out into particular communities and register voters, even though the people they attempted to register and to convince to vote Democratic were strangers to them.

Republicans, by contrast, effected a massive volunteer campaign at a very local, grass-roots level, enlisting literally millions of volunteers to go out into their own communities, among people they knew, to register Republican voters and convince their neighbors to vote for George W. Bush. On election day, these same volunteers made millions of phone calls to people to whom they were known in their communities for the purpose of insuring a high Republican voter turnout.

In addition, the Republican strategy involved a concentrated effort to increase voter turnout in areas that had already been identified as Republican strongholds. Rather than attempt to change voters' minds, Republicans focused on increasing their majorities in local areas where they knew their message was already well-received. In retrospect, because Democrats relied heavily on paid workers, there was simply lacking, on the Democrat side, the power of conviction, the commitment to a set of principles, that was inherent in the Republican get-out-the-vote effort.

This component (and it is but one of many, I would emphasize) of the Republican victory reflects, in my view, an inability of Democrats to acknowledge and address the true nature of the American electorate and, indeed, of the election process itself. It manifested in the Democrats' being unable (or unwilling) to motivate large numbers of volunteers to register new voters and to spread the word about their candidate and their positions, effectively sealing their fate in the election of 2004.


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