Tag: Marco Rubio

The Politics of Design & Why It Matters More Than Ever

The Wilderness  |  Issue 48  | 4 . 23 . 15 |

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The need to present Hillary Clinton as the candidate best suited for the country going forward, and not the one that reminds us of our past, is one that her campaign clearly believes is their top priority right now. This was evidenced by her lifting lines directly from Marco Rubio’s announcement speech a day after hers about a “21st century America” and building “An economy for tomorrow” at a roundtable in Iowa. Clinton opted for a mostly-digital roll out that she barely made an appearance in. A much younger, much more affable Rubio took to a stage to remind an audience that yesterday is over.

The line stung.

Being the aged candidate of yesterday is a label Hillary Clinton cannot shake on her own. She’s been part of the national and international political scene since long before a youthful generation of millennials have even been able to cast a vote in a national election. On top of that she’s facing a new crop of GOP candidates that have an entire blank slate to work from. For the first time in generations the political board has been completely flipped upside down. The Democrats find themselves saddled with geriatric establishment candidates who will be forced to overcome their messaging of the past. In order to accomplish this, they will turn to the symbolic visual identity that made Barack Obama an iconic force in American Culture. Clinton opted for a roll out that resembled a product launch, not a political campaign. There was a very specific reason for this and it has everything to do with how Obama changed the political landscape forever.

The gamble they are taking is that young voters on college campuses and pop stars will rally around a corporate brand once again, not the flawed message of the candidate themselves. It’s a game they have won overwhelmingly twice already. But the important thing to remember is single letter qualifiers didn’t start with Barack Obama’s iconic O logo. It started in 2004, with a W.

ObamaLogosEarly on, Obama’s team still didn’t have the game completely figured out.  It took David Axelrod contacting partners at a high design firm in Chicago to come in and clean up Obama’s identity. At the time, Facebook was still relatively young, Twitter was a celebrity promotional tool no different than MySpace, and the idea of political branding was almost completely nonexistent. The need for an all-encapsulating logo was restricted to stars and stripes on bumper stickers and buttons. Obama’s young team of forward-thinking advisors engaged experts in marketing to gauge the future of online branding.

What they knew is that Barack Obama was a blank slate that voters, if sold the right way, would attach whatever meaning they wanted to. There is this impression that Barack Obama was always this cool and media savvy candidate and his advisors all just sat around in awe at his political sermons. We think of him like that because they want us to – by design.

Obama has never been forward-thinking or revolutionary as it comes to liberal politics. It feels that way, because he is packaged that way. The attraction to Obama was almost based on branding alone. Had his team gone a different direction, with one of several rejected logos, the election could have in fact gone a very different direction.

Pre-Obama political design was much like anything else in pre-Obama politics: it wasn’t so much about branding ideas as a corporate identity, as it was an ornament to what the candidate was saying. We didn’t view candidates as a simple aside to whatever the advertising was around them. The branding was a complement to the candidate. With Obama, that paradigm was flipped. Political design was restricted to the candidate’s name and choice of serif or sans-serif font so it didn’t overshadow the message of the candidate themselves.

But Barack Obama didn’t have a lot to say.

The sloganeering he did sell he sold very well. He played his part perfectly as a spokesperson of a larger branding campaign, and for the most part still does. Obama’s marketing and his logo specifically acted as a shield for him to hide his rather extremist views and associations. People had to believe they weren’t voting for a candidate for President with very little background information and experience. They had to believe they were part of a movement. A pop culture phenomena. People want to be a part of fad movements because culture is like a comet. We never know when or even if these moments will come around again. The gravitational pull to belong to it becomes irresistible. If a candidate allows themselves to be defined by the branding around them, they become a symbol. They become Pepsi or Nike or a sports team, creating lifelong, loyal fans, not voters. That’s what defines the success behind Barack Obama. Barack Obama’s worldview is irrelevant when Shepard Fairey is immortalizing him into pop culture.

This was just another area (along with voter outreach and data mining) where the Obama team, through very good market calculations, were able to reduce the GOP to the party of constantly trying to catch up. Barack Obama came across to impressionable consumers as a popular product, not a politician, and it immediately made John McCain look older than he already was. Mitt Romney’s branding identity was better. His team embraced cleaner and more modern design but in the end it just simply felt like they were ripping off Obama whose team had moved on to simple Gotham font and instagram filters. Voters will always choose “the real thing.”

The idea of this kind of political branding lionization won’t be going away.

In 2015, Hillary Clinton specifically is attempting the exact same type of campaign, even to the point of bringing on former Obama advisors to help rejuvenate her image. Within hours of announcing her candidacy, Hillary Clinton’s social media identity had changed over to a similar corporate branding identity, complete with website redesign logo. Gone is the stark black and white picture of her, hungover with Blackberry in hand, staring at mysterious emails that no long exist. Voters are now expected to buy into Hillary’s design entity, just as they were Obama’s.

The results thus far have been lukewarm at best.

Her logo was widely panned by design experts and critics and deservedly so. Like most things Hillary, it came across as someone trying too hard to capture the identity of someone they’re not. John Ekdahl of Ace of Spades observed on Twitter how Hillary Clinton chose Brooklyn, the design Mecca of the United States as her hip, young, cool, place to set up her campaign, but then rolls out a traditional and safe, boring design that incorporates almost nothing of what made Obama’s evolving brand successful. Users on Reddit even went so far as to completely redesign her logo using a Shutterstock image, and distributed it on social media hoping for the campaign to wake up and take notice. Graphic Designer, Rick Wolf created an entire typeface based on the logo which the Washington Post turned into a word generator. Conservatives had just as much, if not more, fun with this than devotees of Clinton. MS Paint or a hospital road sign seemed to be the prevailing go-to reactions as to what the Hillary ‘H’ evoked. Despite all the humorous attempts to modernize it, Hillary’s logo is lifeless, flat and immobile, all suitable (if not subconsciously telling) descriptions of the client it represents.

And yet: none of these criticisms actually matter. They miss the point entirely.

The actual design of the logo is irrelevant compared to the collective purpose it serves and why. It’s not the logo that matters, it’s what the consumer projects onto it. Like any other logo or brand design, you have to understand the motivations of the designer.

Michael Bierut, the founder of Design Observer and co-partner at Pentagram (yes, Hillary’s campaign contracted a design firm named Pentagram) is the chief design architect behind Hillary’s logo and one of the giants in the design industry. He’s familiar to just about any design professional or, at the very least, to anyone who has seen the 2007 documentary Helvetica. “A lot of what we see happening in a logo isn’t actually happening in a logo – it happens in our own mind,” Bierut states in a short interview for Design Indaba (video above). “What’s interesting, particularly, about that kind of telegraphic communication is that it it is inherently participatory.” This is the clearest explanation as to why political candidates, post-Obama, should feel the need for any kind of logo to begin with, and why a branding identity is now so vital to their success.

“You’re sort of taking all that experience you’ve had with that product or that institution or whomever that symbol represents and you’re imposing it onto what can be very simple shapes that really have no inherent meaning at all.” From here on out and for the rest of her political life, for better or worse, Hillary is stuck with that H.

The branding resonance that grew up around the branding of Barack Obama felt organic (it wasn’t). With a 67-year-old Hillary Clinton it already feels forced and is perhaps the most symbolic struggle so far of why Clinton will struggle between siphoning off Obama’s youthful pop culture iconography, while trying to distance herself from his very real policy failures and stake out her own positions as the grand elder stateswoman and not his third term. The media, along with the DNC, have admitted that their goal is to “Kardashianize” Hillary Clinton: embed her so far into the pop-culture consciousness of the country that Election Day is all but a foregone conclusion. The forward-pointing H is meant to protect Hillary from her lack of record and shady associations, just as Obama’s shield did for his. It will be a much more difficult task for her to achieve than it was for him, but it may not matter if she reaches brand status.

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This is the game we all are forced to play now. Candidates aren’t just pushing their policy positions anymore. They are pushing their identity as brands. The exact same way Pepsi Cola or a celebrity would. Sunday morning appearances on talk shows with dwindling audiences aren’t good enough. There must be a presence on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, SnapChat, Pinterest and Reddit that goes beyond their basic political messaging. This is the reason good branding is so crucial and why members of media circle around and breathlessly try to breakdown the meaning of why Rand Paul’s logo resembles Tinder (it doesn’t) or why Ted Cruz’s logo looks like a tear drop (it does). Marco Rubio’s team abandoned bold logo design almost completely, opting for a design identity that would be fresh – if his 2016 online store sold home pregnancy tests.

So far all three declared GOP candidate campaigns are opting for a more traditional design identity while, for better or worse, Hillary’s arrow is instantly recognizable. Notice: I didn’t include either Hillary’s 2016 logo or Obama’s in this piece, and yet most people reading this already have both seared into their minds, and that’s the overall value provided by this new age of political branding.

GOP candidates have caught up and caught on but they ignore the importance of brand recognition when it comes to their campaigns at their own peril. Come 2016 the country will be looking for a new identity, and it may just decide to settle on the one they recognize the most.

 

 

– SM –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Captain America: Marco Rubio Has a Story to Tell

The Wilderness | Issue 47 | 4 . 13. 15 |
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The best thing that happened to Marco Rubio was being passed up in 2012 as Mitt Romney’s running mate. His American story would have been eclipsed and pushed into the background of a campaign that never could overcome the image of a cardboard millionaire burning dollar bills for fun and killing people with Bain cancer.

And Marco Rubio most definitely has a story to tell.

It’s a story that doesn’t require checking off the Cherokee Indian nationality box on Harvard application for him to tell it. His upbringing by blue collar immigrant parents is the story Barack Obama wishes he could sell during his immigration march. Rubio’s father worked and raised him on a bartender’s tips and his mother, a hotel maid, two people today that Hillary Clinton would describe as simple servants. Marco Rubio’s rise is an American story, and a country searching for a new star as opposed to an old face, is primed to listen if he tells it right. He comes off like the Matt Damon character in The Adjustment Bureau. Always on an upward trajectory, becoming successful by the sheer force of his magnetic personality and the sense that higher powers are guiding his way. But there’s also trepidation that comes along with him.

He always feels like a guy you could embarrass with a dirty joke. We tried that in 2012 with a candidate who was happy to not only pull his punches, but also pick his enemy up and then wonder why he was sucker punched over and over again. There are undeniable similarities between Rubio and Mitt Romney that go beyond Rubio hiring Romney’s room of advisers. Rubio can’t sit back and talk of the sweeping promise of America alone as the Buzzfeeds and late night shows try to embrace Hillary Clinton. He has to be more and the people he has surrounded himself with better have learned from their 2012 mistakes. Rubio, along with Ted Cruz and Rand Paul are generational Republicans. They have a real, genuine opportunity to convert a waning Democrat electorate for a decade or more, but they have to start engaging younger voters, not talk at them.  This is where Marco Rubio can make his run and why he’s uniquely suited for the times.

He is the first Generation X candidate to run for President.

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When he visited Google to talk the future of innovation last year, he didn’t look out-of-place or like another Washington stuffed suit. He understands the developments of the technology industry and the limitless possibilities of growth, if innovation is left alone to create and design. He’s not peering over his reading glasses at the guys from Google. He grew up with them.

This also translates over to culture for him and at this point in the race, it’s the only thing that matters. He’s a mega fan of Tupac Shakur, Public Enemy and N.W.A and in preparing for the fight ahead, he would be much wiser heeding their advice over the swath of former Romney 2012 advisors he’s targeting. Rubio stated in a GQ interview in 2012 that among his favorite songs Straight Outta Compton was his favorite, and More punks I smoke, yo, my rep gets bigger is exactly how he should position himself  because that’s what it’s going to take to defeat Hillary Clinton. Last month while Clinton was immersed in an email scandal that could see her testify before congress in the midst of her candidacy, there was only one outlet brave enough to ask her questions as she strolled through Reagan National Airport – TMZ.  Hillary conveniently ignored the reporter’s questions.

When TMZ caught up with Marco Rubio and asked him to compare Rapper Lil Wayne to Tupac, not only did he not ignore, he articulated the difference between the two:

Rubio is a Republican who can talk to a TMZ paparazzi reporter about hip hop while walking with a smile on his face. Yes Team Grandma, you are terrified and you should be.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and the DNC are certainly welcome to make the case that these comparisons are trivial, but this is the tone they’ve set for the past six years. Marco Rubio’s humored responses on hip hop culture matter because the pop culture presidency of Barack Obama has made them matter. If there is one candidate in the field that can illuminate the stark contrast of the generational divide that exists between a 69 year old Hillary Clinton and a country growing more obsessed with youth culture and the growing problems facing it, it’s Rubio. That’s the part of his personality he needs to add to his sweeping pontification on the promise of America. He has to approach voters with more than just a memory of a dead President, gone long before some of them were born.

Less Reagan’s ghost. More Ghostface Killah.

Rubio’s message has to be about more than attaining the American Dream through hard work and getting a job. He can sell a vision of optimistic idealism through hard work but he can’t do it sounding like the buzz killing Republican dad turning off the video game and yelling at a tuned out electorate to go get a job. This was the problem Mitt Romney couldn’t overcome. Rubio can orate better than any candidate entering the 2016 field. But rhetoric on the promise of American renewal isn’t going to be enough. The promise simply feels faded for far too many people after eight years of Barack Obama’s magical mystery tour. He has to give people (and more importantly young people) incentive and he can but he has to do it on their terms. To connect, Rubio has to motivate a disenfranchised American public where 92 million don’t have a job and many of which are content to keep it that way because their entitlements pay better. He has to make people want to get a job, pursue a career, and follow a dream. It’s not an easy task but it is possible. A great example of selling that kind of message the right way came from Kevin Kline’s jobs speech from the movie Dave:

Rubio has that kind of ability, to captivate a room, but he’s going to have to get dirty and admit hard truths to people and he has to be willing to do it in venues most suited for him. That means sitting down for interviews, side by side  with his stunning wife, Jeanette (a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader), on Univision and Telemundo instead of Good Morning America and Meet the Press. It means engaging on Facebook and Reddit (as all 2016 candidates should be doing) in both English and Spanish. It means speaking on college campuses and more importantly, community college campuses. It means becoming the guy in Pennsylvania and Ohio that blue collar men and women can talk football with. Rubio can harness his love of Eminem as a weapon to reach into the dilapidated warehouses and homes of Detroit. He can connect with African American communities, not by talking to them about federal debt, but Public Enemy and Kanye West. These are the strengths other candidates simply don’t have. Jeb Bush has thus far been articulate and safe but won’t swing a cultural needle much either way. Scott Walker runs the risk of being written off as typical Republican white bread. Ted Cruz is making his play for the Santorumcons and Rand Paul is attempting to grow a depleted base of youth voters from the depths of internet out. There is room in the street for Rubio if he wants it.

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His other strength is none of the potential GOP candidates have had the practice run against someone like Clinton. Marco Rubio has, having dispensed limousine loving, ventriloquist dummy Charlie Crist to the political ash heap. Crist and Clinton are cut from the exact same elitist cloth, believing themselves entitled and destined, the voters be damned. Both of them have gotten creamed in elections staking out that position by someone an electorate found more charismatic and in tune with everyday values.

The country is currently in the middle of the American Idol phase of 2016. As each candidate enters, the press will give them their hazing in the hopes of protecting a 70 year old retread that most of the country has already made their mind up about, even if her former campaign manager hasn’t. There is plenty of time for Rubio to explain his immigration failures and demonstrate his Foreign policy credentials in an election that is almost certainly going to be centered on a world crumbling at the feet of Barack Obama. But Rubio now, just like the other candidates entering the race, should be focused on getting his story told because today in America, there are more people growing up as Marco Rubio did, rather than Chelsea Clinton.

There is no doubt who has dominated and shaped American pop culture for the past decade. But as Obama exits, so does the ability to keep the culture calcified around him. Now “the party of cool” is stuck with a senior citizen bobbing her head along to verses of Fleetwood Mac and Carole King, all while a young fresh faced Republican senator from Florida is quoting Jay Z and Wiz Khalifa from memory from the floor of the Senate:

“That takes me back to another modern-day poet by the name of Jay-Z and one of the songs he wrote: ‘It’s funny when seven days can change, it was all good just a week ago, well I don’t know if it was all good a week ago, but I can tell you that things have really changed, because if the president was George W. Bush and this was a question being asked of him and his response was the silence we’ve gotten, we’d have a very different scenario here tonight.”

If Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to position themselves as the Netflix Elite, partying and laughing along with Frank Underwood, let them do it. Rubio is the rare politician who can play the role of America’s once and future son, connecting on a blue collar level without resorting to class warfare and taking a message of visceral hope to a cynical generation of voters that have truly never been spoken to before. The alternate choice is a press pass into John Podesta’s luxury living room. No candidate entering the 2016 GOP field has a higher ceiling, but ultimately Marco Rubio has to be willing to take the gloves off if he wants to reach it.

In the immortal words of Public Enemy, Marco Rubio must bring the noise.

 

 

– SM –

Randolution: The Peoples Choice, For Now.

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Engaging in any speculation of the 2016 presidential election is, for the most part, theater of the absurd. It keeps the media busy and preoccupied from focusing on their exhausted fad and current occupant of the Oval Office. On January 20th, 2017, a new President will take the Oath of Office and on January 21st the media will start pontificating on who the front runners are for each party in 2022. At this point in George W. Bush’s second term, Barack Obama was a still ?largely unknown outside of Bill Ayers’ living room.

However, something of note is happening right under the feet of the RNC and their massive rebranding effort that have larger implications then just the election in 2016. The party is being rebranded and they seemingly aren’t even aware of it.

This was evident this past weekend at CPAC 2014 (Conservative Political Action Conference) when Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky took the stage. This is certainly not an endorsement (no one should be tied by blood to anyone at this point), just an observation of the landscape a new generation of young conservatives is crafting. The waves Paul is making among? youth of all political parties have been growing for some time. Now they are becoming undeniable.

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The RNC had better be paying attention. They claim to want to attract more youth voters. They should then listen to what they cheer for the most. They claim to want more minority voters. Look at what even the most ardent media critics with disdain for the GOP are saying. The RNC is taking giant steps to reach voters, finally catching up to Team Chicago on data mining. The question has to then become how to keep them?

Rand Paul thinks he has the answers. Young people crave rebellion. It’s in their DNA and they don’t care what political party that person stands for when they feel it, see it and most importantly hear it.

The only person they are hearing it from at this moment is Paul.

Marco Rubio is the best young conservative speaker since Ronald Reagan and is beginning to branch out but sweeping generalities don’t win elections at the moment in time that they are held, the issues at hand do. For all of the soaring grandiloquence?Barack Obama bellowed out in 2008, it was the financial crisis and the suspension of the McCain campaign that swept him into office.?There must be more than soaring rhetoric after 10 years of empty soaring rhetoric.

Rick Perry can cheer on a good old-fashioned Rebellion, but when anyone under the age of 30 sees Rick Perry in hipster glasses, they see a walking Cialis commercial and a return to Michael Bay-style politics of nuke first and ask later.

Scott Walker has the bruises, the record and the conservative appeal but whether or not it plays nationally is a mystery, as well as his intentions.

Chris Christie still has bridge issues and he will until the year 2038 (Ready For Chelsea!) if MSNBC has their way.

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Ted Cruz has a firm grip on the hardcore base but not the support of the entrenched overall party. That doesn’t mean it’s fair and it’s not an excuse but that makes it hard to raise money and convince donors. The most personable Ted Cruz ever got was when he appeared on The Tonight show which allowed to him to show the country he was not the simple caricature?the media was making him out to be. He has proven himself an able and charismatic warrior but the question has to be asked is if he is ready or will he be pushed into a race before his time by a base frothing at the mouth for a Sarah Palin replacement.

The only person reaching into the deep well of conservative and libertarian youth at this moment in time is Rand Paul. But nothing Rand Paul is saying is unique to Rand Paul. Everyone remembers Rand Paul’s filibuster but what no one talks about is who joined him.

Both Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.

The RNC has to start listening to the applause and the GOP has to start paying attention to the crowds. None of the issues Rand Paul is addressing are issues that buck conservative and constitutional philosophies. It’s because he is the only one addressing them that the crowds flock.

The GOP can get behind Paul’s mandatory minimum sentencing legislation. This is the single most important policy change in decades for minorities regarding Republicans and one that would open the floodgates for minority voters and especially minority young voters. Not Amnesty. Reaching out to black communities doesn’t mean just telling them to work hard. It means showing them that someone is looking out for them when they enter an economy and a system that they already feel is rigged against them. They have been betrayed by Barack Obama’s great promises. Paul’s mandatory minimum legislation will do more for black communities than any single policy of Barack Obama’s in six years. This is the kind of forward thinking young people want and that makes progressive network media nervous, because they know they can’t oppose it.

The same goes for legalization of marijuana. In the same CPAC straw poll that crowned Rand Paul the people’s choice, an overwhelming amount of CPAC’ers voted in favor of legalization. If Marco Rubio can get behind Public Enemy, he can get behind this or at least not oppose it in overwhelming fashion and leave it as an issue for the States.

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The entire party can pick up the issue of NSA domestic spying. The GOP, for all their posturing about the being the party of the Constitution, has remained largely silent on our privacy rights guaranteed under the 4th Amendment. There is a youth base out there that watches The Daily Show and Jimmy Fallon and reads Upworthy and Buzzfeed and also owns a cell phone that is being monitored by Barack Obama’s NSA. That’s right, Barack Obama’s NSA. Say it again and repeat it often.

It’s a slam dunk.

This issue is untouchable for the Democrat Party. To go against NSA spying would be rejecting Barack Obama. As of now they are not a party willing to do so. However, sometime in late 2015 or early 2016, when a 70-year-old Hillary Clinton is lagging behind with youth voters and college students, expect the loyalist media to?plant the idea of pardoning of hacker hero Edward Snowden in Obama’s head at the benefit of her. This is why jumping on this issue now and owning it is imperative.

The only potential candidate willing to explicitly address NSA domestic spying is Paul. Why are so many voices on the deep bench of Republican hopefuls quiet on this? Why can’t Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz or a handful of Governors of independent states, articulate the illegalities of a massive dragnet of surveillance of Americans is unconstitutional? Rubio would certainly be better than Paul at doing so. The silence of the GOP on this equals compliance in the minds of young voters. That is why Rand Paul’s line at CPAC, ?You may think I’m talking about electing Republicans, I’m not. I’m talking about electing lovers of liberty? resonated with so many in the audience and not boos. Revolution is more attractive to youth voters right now than Conservative rhetoric, because they have no idea what modern Conservatism actually ?is.

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When Rand Paul speaks of Madison and the Constitution, people can smell gunpowder. They hear taps. When Rand Paul speaks of rebellion, people believe it, because they watched it happen already. They watched a Senator from Kentucky stand up for 13 hours and recite our?inalienable rights?to a President who feels he can drone any human being he feels like off the face of the Earth – Even those born under the country that elected him.?It’s doubtful that anyone has stood up to Barack Obama for 13 hours on anything in his entire life.??Voters who at the time of Barack Obama’s emancipation were 12-14 years old are now blooming into the defiance stages of their lives.

To them Barack Obama has always been the authority and Rand Paul is the most prominent face standing up to him. Gestures like the grandstanding on the Senate floor or suing the office of President, as ?symbolic as they only may be, resonate. The idea of an electoral revolution is palpable and Paul knows it. He knows when to pick his battles and with whom. He’s the only voice putting Bill Clinton in his rightful place in the war on women, a war the Democrat party will magnify tenfold in the coming two years. He pegged Hillary Clinton on arms trafficking through a consulate in Benghazi, long before reports surfaced. Good political instincts don’t assure Paul the Republican nomination. It doesn’t even mean he’s going to run (he is) but at the very least he’s showing the GOP where the fight can and should be. The crowds cheer for Rand Paul because GOP leadership gives them nothing to cheer about.

The Democrat party finds themselves defending very unpopular ideas all of a sudden. Obamacare, the NSA and the IRS (something both Paul and Cruz are in favor of abolishing altogether). Big government imposing it’s executive will with a phone and pen on a people, born free and protected by a founding document. This will become painfully evident to them in 2014 and Rand Paul will be right there reciting The Federalist Papers. Progressive media might roll their eyes at recollections of revolution. The new millennials thus far, are not.

Between now and 2016 there is going to be a passionate fight for the soul of the GOP. It’s already started. This is a good thing. Voters watching the theater unfold before them don’t want the docile unity of complicit group-think. Not this time. They want a street fight and for the strongest person to come out of it. What currently sets Rand Paul apart from the other potentials, and the GOP at large, is that he is actively recruiting a youth army to stand with him.

And they are ready to march.

 

 

 

– SM –

 

I Am The 2016 Republican Nominee for President, AMA.

 

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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?

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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 –