On August 29th of last year, President and incumbent for re-election Barack Obama sat down on Reddit.com to answer questions. It became to top post on Reddit of the year, netting over 5 million page views and promptly crashed Reddit’s host servers. Neither Mitt Romney or Paul Ryan bothered tocounter that kind of attention.
This summed up the basic flaws of messaging during the 2012 campaign.
Barack Obama reached into the depths of popular culture?and scooped up as many votes as he could. People might have been disenfranchised with Barack Obam as a President , but at least he was speaking the language and Mitt Romney never overcame?the “out-of-touch” sign the media and Obama slapped on his back.
There is a way of avoiding those mistakes in 2016 but the GOP has to change.
They have the ability to reach thousands, if not a potential couple million voters and they wouldn’t have to leave their seats or spend a dime from a war chest to do it. Easy political outreach. Yet ten months out from what should have been a winnable Presidential election, GOP leadership is already forgetting these lessons of the 2012 campaign and are refusing to change their stubborn ways.
An AMA (Ask Me Anything) is an open forum that celebrities and cultural figures participate on Reddit, an internet bulletin board of sorts. They provide image proof of their identity and proceed to answer questions that readers vote up or down on, driving user and crowd content to the top of a forum. Often celebrities will only answer what they want, as Barack Obama did in 2012 but very rarely are these question and answer sessions boring or tedious as debates tend to get. The target of the AMA creates an account with moderator help, provides image proof via Twitter or Facebook and proceeds to answer questions, completely unfiltered. It is never boring, often fascinating, and wildly unpredictable. Three things the GOP is not exactly known for as of late.
Famous AMA’s include Bill Gates, Ron Paul, Stephen Colbert, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rachel Maddow (Who famously bombed hers), Morgan Freeman (Another famous bomb), Louis C.K., Roger Federer, Larry King, Philip Zimbardo, Stan Lee, Paul Krugman, Danny Boyle, & Al Gore. Recently Rush Holt took to Reddit to lay out his platform for his Senate campaign, taking his cue from Cory Booker. Slate’s Dave Weigel and ‘This Town’ author Mark Leibovich both entered Reddit’s arena just this past month.
The question at this point that must be asked of RNC Leadership and GOP media staff is why aren’t they doing the same?
Reddit started in 2005 by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian as a sort of internet bulletin board… It was all user driven content that allowed account holders to upvote or downvote the content they wanted to read. It was in essence the very first SEO driven website even before Google and Yahoo. It was Buzzfeed in beta and Buzzfeed itself has been accused of ripping content right off Reddit’s pages?by their contributing reporters who no doubt surf daily for new content. It was a place where students, nerds and counterculture would gather and talk about news or things that were interesting to them, as outlets such as television and radio did not offer this kind of interaction. It was a place where cult followings for tv shows (Futurama, Arrested Development) grew. Though often times having an adversarial relationship with 4Chan, Reddit was also a lite springboard for the Anonymous movement.
In 2006 Aaron Swartz became a co-owner through a company merger with Huffman and Ohanian. Eventually Reddit allowed open source and sub headers where content could be created completely independent of Reddit’s main boards and today it has grown to almost innumerable amounts of subreddits centered around anything. Users with accounts can subscribe to any subreddit they choose and follow it, Sometimes not with the best judgement in mind. Today Reddit hosts millions of users worldwide and has declared itself “The Front Page of the Internet” – It’s hard to argue.
But it’s Reddit’s AMA feature that has grown to prominence and beyond the memes and trolls of internet culture. Reddit is generally considered a progressive outlet for culture. Saying it is only young people is as inaccurate as saying it’s a place where only internet nerds can gather. Despite its millions of users..Reddit often times comes together in a time of need. I personally was able to send an emergency responder a pizza on the night of the Boston Marathon bombings courtesy of a system a Redditor set up. The Reddit AMA is an enormous well that as of now the GOP and RNC have refused to tap, despite the evidence that shows political AMAs are among the site’s most popular attraction.
It is safe to assume that any Conservative reaching out to the online community of Reddit will be faced with early hurdles and questions they may not find welcoming, possibly even distasteful. Reddit can be very unforgiving. But just last month something happened at Reddit that can provide the kind of opening GOP candidates need. Reddit Admins announced that r/politics, known for a heavy liberal bias of stories and links, would no longer be included in Reddit’s front page default reddits. This was huge news that barely went noticed outside of the realms of internet culture. It also enraged the lunatic fringe progressive left Now the only way user’s posting links and stories from Think Progress, Media Matters, Daily Kos & Move On can reach the front page is if their submitted content is up-voted to it. A casual lurker does not see a category for politics and thus does not get sucked into a liberal hellhole.
This was a huge blow the DNC outreach as more than one Democrat member of Congress has admitted to having his own personal staff submit stories to reddit (Hello again Buzzfeed) then have his staff upvote it throughout the day using member accounts. Now these pet posts get lost in the shuffle with an inumerable amount of ridiculous subreddits. Content wise, it’s a level playing field.
The GOP just now needs leadership brave enough to enter a world they are unfamiliar with. Is that not what the GOP has been preaching since last election? Outreach to voters that normally would not consider Conservative candidates? Do we not go into heavy African American or Hispanic neighborhoods because we don’t think they will vote for us? No. Perhaps it’s the fear of not being able to control the questions, or the message. Perhaps it’s the mind set of simply saying the people that exist on Reddit is not their target base. Reddit’s users are generally liberal with libertarian tendencies. Any Conservative doing an AMA can expect being confronted with uncensored questions about occupy, the 1%, abortion, Foreign Policy, Iraq and George W. Bush among others from a local state council vote they gave 20 years ago. Redditors are not uninformed, they are not stupid and they hate being patronized. ?But these are opportunities to talk past a network media complex that is uninterested in presenting this message to voters anyway.
What apparently is lost on RNC leadership is the cost of this kind of voter outreach. Are you sitting down Reince Priebus? It costs absolutely nothing. It costs the candidate an hour of time. Nothing more. It expels less energy than working a rope line and costs less producing bumper stickers.
The ability to reach hundreds if not thousands of voters for free and as of yet the GOP has said no thanks, the exception being Darrell Issa.
Rand Paul could have seized on the the energy generated by his 13 hour filibuster (energy that Reddit noticed) and followed it up with an incredible AMA about 4th Amendment rights and privacy. It would have been a salvo right across the nose of Barack Obama? and a base of voters he thinks he has secured for the Democrat Party for 2016 and beyond. Marco Rubio could have used Reddit to continue making light of his water bottle moment during his response to Barack Obama’s 2013 State of the Union and to help clarify his position on Immigration reform. I personally reached out to Marco Rubio’s press secretary, Alex Conant myself regarding a Rubio AMA.
I never heard back.
Ted Cruz is ridiculed almost daily on MSNBC. Reddit could be that line of opportunity to talk past the lunacy of Chris Matthews and Joe Scaroborough and sell the beliefs and ideals of repealing Obamacare directly at an audience that it’s going to affect the most. If GOP Senators and House Members are serious about shutting the Government over Obamacare, Reddit is the perfect open forum to take their argument directly to the people and sway their argument. David Gregory may laugh it off. Daily Kos may troll it and Buzzfeed might make fun of it. So what? Those media outlets would be powerless to shape their own narrative around our argument. There is no deceptive editing on Reddit. No filter and no one to shout over. In local statewide elections, Nancy Mace and Tom Cotton could instantly raise their profiles and fundraising over their Republican and Democrat opponents. Susana Martinez and Tim Scott instantly cross the media barrier where the mythical war on minorities and women is being waged against them.
It is hard to foresee every GOP candidate for President succeeding at this type of open forum where questions that are often hard to imagine are asked. How would Rick Perry handle a question like “Would you rather fight 100 duck sized horses or 1 horse sized duck?”. But in a field of say eight or nine primary candidates, if three to four sat down and answered important, humorous and bizarre questions and managed to leverage some coverage from it, why wouldn’t the rest? Imagine what a bit of humanization and clarification could do for a candidate Scott Walker or Bobby Jindal. Marco Rubio has shown brilliant flashes of himself in this light by posting his water bottle gaffe to Twitter and admitting he listens to Public Enemy. Chris Christie could show a magnanimous side of himself that isn’t just about barking off at reporters and Unions. Would anyone sitting on our bench completely bomb an AMA say worse than Joe Biden?
The Romney Ryan campaign consultants didn’t even risk reaching out to this audience. Barack Obama did.
Another important point that went unnoticed largely outside of internet culture; the suicide of Aaron Swartz. The online community of Reddit was shocked and devastated when Swartz took his own life in January of this year under indicitment stemming from a convtroversial investigation by Eric Holder’s Justice Department. It was one of the first real cracks within Obama’s liberal stranglehold on social media. Swartz’ death mobilized Redditors to start questioning Holder and Obama’s hard nosed tactics in pursuing what the community felt was a brave whistleblower. Links were not immediately mass down voted and stories were allowed to linger near the front page for days. Several web outlets have openly questioned the Department of Justice over the charges against Swartz. This was why Senator Rand Paul’s filibuster could not have been timed better with these events, and why he is missing out on opportunities to listen to the concerns Redditors have revolving around stories like Aaron Swartz and Edward Snowden. If Barack Obama sat down today his reception would be very different than before Swartz’ suicide, NSA spying revelations and the still unanswered death of one of their own in Vile Rat (AKA, Sean Smith who was killed in Benghazi on 9/11/2012).
Would doing one AMA solve all the communication and messaging problems with the GOP? No. Reddit can often times be an unforgiving pack of jackals (See Woody Harrelson) and Reddit is not without it’s own controversies including an ongoing feud with Gawker. But over time two, three, four AMA’s leading up to 2014 and GOP 2016 Candidates would show we are unafraid of taking our lumps and if not answering hard questions, at the very least tolerating them and after time the trolling memes would disappear and the GOP could find themselves with an entire generation of new listeners willing to consider a platform of small government and repealing entitlements they simply can’t afford.
Reaching out to an almost limitless online audience costs the RNC far less than not reaching out. The alternative is once again standing idly by until the top post is “I am Democrat Nominee for President Hillary Clinton”
Then we are left playing copybot and catch up in another election.
– SM –