To Build a Political Movement
The puzzling thing about Richard Viguerie's latest organizational enterprise is that it doesn't draw lessons from the technique that made his previous organizational effort so successful: direct mail. Viguerie's central insight was that one could build a movement by directly appealing to individuals whose sympathies might lie with that movement. Direct mail allowed Barry Goldwater to tap small donors for campaign contributions. Direct mail helped National Review build an audience. And direct mail helped conservatives build a formidable political movement.
But the reason direct mail worked was because conservatives were precisely targeted. ConeservativeHQ, by contrast, doesn't appeal to conservatives through their mailboxes (electronic or otherwise) -- rather, the site depends on gathering input from conservatives, as Viguerie himself pleads:
I'm urging conservatives across this country to start a national discussion, and to e-mail me at RAV@ConservativesBetrayed.com with their thoughts on these questions: Do you think opening up the race is a good idea? Do you have any other suggestions for candidates? Could someone come in off the sidelines, change the direction of the momentum, get the fans back into game, and lead us to victory?
Instead of soliciting conservatives for money or magazine subscriptions, this new model solicits conservatives for ideas. A top-down approach that culls random input from the rank-and-file isn't a grassroots movement, it's astroturf. And this demonstrates two things. First, that a hard ceiling has likely been reached on the number of conservatives that can be directly marketed to. Direct mail gave them a sense of identity and shared community, and now that identity is looking increasingly anachronistic and grossly unrepresentative of the public at large. And second, the conservative movement, as if were, has become so habitually reliant on a hierarchical power structure based on the personalities of specific Republicans that it doesn't so much draft candidates anymore as it is constantly in search of the next Reagan. (Notice how Viguerie describes each of the Republican candidates' positive traits in Reaganite terms.)
Rick Perlstein takes all this as evidence that the movement is exhausted and essentially at its end. That may well be. But as he also points out, you wouldn't know it from the degree of representation of people like Viguerie in the elite media.