“The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.” -- Malcolm Gladwell, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
The Republican Party’s senior operatives are publicly committing the cardinal sin of promising to spend tens of millions of dollars of its most generous donors’ money to lard up on data: knowledge. What instead, is required -- to restore its ability to make good, winning, decisions -- is virtue: understanding. This critical distinction appears lost on the politicos.
Memo to the GOP donor base: to win (in 2014 and 2016 and beyond) the GOP can and must get just two things just right. First, the GOP must (and can) reunite its libertarian and conservative factions around the Constitution. Second, the party must (and can) use technology to decentralize, not centralize, sending power to the edge.
As this columnist recently noted, the party can and must regenerate the principled operating alliance between its donor base -- the high-dollar libertarian financial elites -- and its popular base -- conservative, very much including social conservative, activists. This requires leadership humility rather than cleverness.
It readily can be done if the GOP rededicates itself to the core American principles contained in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address. These hold doctrines compelling to libertarians, to conservatives, and to the vast majority of America’s voters, including both independents and Reagan Democrats.
These documents contain America’s political genome. They set forth the requisite “mission statement” for any political party bound for victory: “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” from the Declaration of Independence, the “small r” republican principles and the Bill of Rights commitment to civil liberties from the Constitution, and the populist manifesto “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth” conclusion of the Gettysburg Address.
Second, the GOP must wake up and use technology to put “power to the edge.” “Power to the edge” is a doctrine developed by the great air-to-air combat strategist “Genghis John” Boyd. As Wikipedia summarizes the profoundly successful (and profoundly influential, although not on the GOP) Boyd Theory:
“The key to survival and autonomy is the ability to adapt to change, not perfect adaptation to existing circumstances. Indeed, Boyd noted that radical uncertainty is a necessary precondition of physical and mental vitality: all new opportunities and ideas spring from some mismatch between reality and ideas about it, as examples from the history of science, engineering and business illustrate.”
Most GOP superconsultants and senior operatives act, at base, as managers rather than leaders. The concept that “radical uncertainty is a necessary precondition of … vitality” is utterly alien to a manager. Managers crave a delusive certainty.
It is bitterly ironic that a political party doctrinally committed to smaller government and free enterprise should be mired, operationally, in utterly discredited dogmas of central command and control. The obliviousness of the GOP’s magnificos to political battle doctrine fully assimilated by the left will, if left unchecked, prove fatal to the GOP and its vision for America.
The GOP establishment has proven itself recalcitrant at standing for “small r” republican principles, liberty, and in sending “power to the edge.” But there is hope. The GOP’s key donors are showing signs of taking control away from the entrenched party leadership.
The donors have thus far been deferential to senior operatives and party officials. But just as shareholders who have been deferential to entrenched management, can, losing patience, turn against managers that continually lose market share and money, so can these donors turn. Andy Kroll in Mother Jones, observes: “72 percent of all super-PAC donations in the 2012 election cycle came from just 253 rich people who each gave half a million dollars or more.”
It is in these “just 253 rich people” that hope for a GOP renaissance resides. The superdonors have the power to pull the Rogue Elephant from the precipice.
The GOP’s officials and superconsultants have been overheard throwing around “All Hat No Cattle” sums -- $20 million for the proposed Rove-favored Data Trust, for example.
Sounds like bluster. Where is all this money supposed to come from? According to the Washington Post:
“Seven months after the 2012 election, a lingering hangover among conservative donors has stalled efforts by right-leaning independent groups to fill their coffers. Wealthy contributors who dashed off six and seven-figure checks last year are eyeing super PACs and other politically active groups more skeptically, frustrated that the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to elect Romney went for naught.”
“In their pitches, many organizations are pledging to diversify their approaches and not rely as heavily on expensive television advertising as they did in the last election…. The new emphasis is on digital campaigns and get-out-the-vote organizing … .”
The operatives’ promise to “diversify” sounds like an exercise in becoming “fully buzzword compliant” rather than “understanding.” Nothing they have announced even hints at a desire to take “power to the edge.” Of course the consultants desire to maintain their own command and control -- at all costs. For many of the party elites, winning elections is secondary, almost an amenity.
There are grounds for hope that the big donors won’t fall for it. The donors aren’t stupid. And the GOP high command, with endless rationalizations for defeat, bears an obvious resemblance to the Pentagon after its humiliating loss in a quarter-billion dollar war game in 2002, Millennium Challenge.
Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink, recounts the story.
“It was the largest and most expensive war game thus far in history. [I]t would end up costing a quarter of a billion dollars, which is more than some countries spend on their entire defense budget.
“With Millennium Challenge … the Blue Team [representing the Pentagon] was given greater intellectual resources than perhaps any army in history. … They were given an unprecedented amount of information and intelligence from every corner of the U.S. government and a methodology that was logical and systematic and rational and rigorous. They had every toy in the Pentagon’s arsenal.
“War is shrouded in fog. The point of Millennium Challenge was to show that, with the full benefit of high-powered satellites and sensors and supercomputers, that fog could be lifted….
“Paul Van Riper [head of the opposing Red Team] … was the antithesis of this position. … Van Riper became convinced that war was inherently unpredictable and messy and non-linear. … It wasn’t that Van Riper hated all rational analysis. It’s that he thought it was inappropriate in the midst of battle, where uncertainties of war and the pressures of time made it impossible to compare options carefully and calmly.
“Van Riper was supposed to be cowed and overwhelmed in the face of a larger foe. … When Red Team’s surprise attack was over, sixteen American ships lay at the bottom of the Persian Gulf. Had Millennium Challenge been a real war instead of just an exercise, twenty thousand American servicemen and women would have been killed before their own army had even fired a shot.
“In the weeks and months that followed, there were numerous explanations from the analysts… about exactly what happened that day in July. … But none of the explanations change the fact that Blue Team suffered a catastrophic failure.”
The GOP has proven itself proficient at losing, through hubris, elections. It is proficient at concocting “numerous explanations.” Its operatives and professionals have gone through extravagant exercises -- the RNC “forensic audit” or “autopsy” (or “whitewash”) being but one -- to regain their control over the hundreds of millions of dollars milked from its elite donor base. Happily, it is looking as if that donor base is no pushover.
The fortunes of the Republican Party, and of the republic, depend on the GOP’s superdonors demanding the Grand Old Party rediscover its core mission of championing "small-r" republican principles, including liberty and constitutional rights. And the future of the GOP, and of America itself, depends on sending “power to the edge.”
Let the “lingering hangover among conservative donors” turn into a full-blown donor revolt. Radical uncertainty teaches us that “power to the edge” is the only way to victory in war, in business, in government … and in politics.