Politics

How do you start fixing the GOP? Open source the platform

How do you start fixing  the GOP? Open source the platform

Since the GOP’s loss in the 2012 election, the Republican establishment has been scrambling to rebrand itself. But the GOP still hasn’t gone far enough with its post-election soul searching. Fixing the problem will require a number of novel ideas – but let me put one on the table.

The Republican Party must engage its members in an open and collaborative process to discuss exactly what the party should stands for and believes in. In so doing, they will effectively create a new Party platform and update the concept of the platform for the 21st century. Such a platform is proposed, written, and ratified in an open process should be the foundation behind which the GOP rallies and will the beginning of a real effort to establish a modern social media presence.

Chairman Reince Preibus’s  Growth & Opportunity Project, co-chaired by Henry Barbour and Ari Fleischer, is a good first step, but it is only that – a first step. It does little to address the core issues threatening the future of the Republican Party. It does not offer a substantive perspective on the party’s next steps; rather, the Project’s findings related mainly to new steps in messaging and campaigning. Changing the emphasis on certain issues in a speech will neither advance the party nor will it solve the problems facing Republicans today. Instead, the Grand Old Party should create an online “platform” to allow Republicans to put forward new ideas. The platform should represent the ideas of the Republican party of today and not three decades ago. Such a process is long overdue.

19th and mid-20th century politics conjures up images of smoke-filled rooms where only party leaders has a say in picking candidates and writing the party platform. Today, with the modern primary system and elected delegate process, it would be reasonable to assume that those days are long gone.

While modern laws prevent most of the rooms from being smoke filled, a closed-door process continues today. It personifies how foundational the crisis that we face as a party truly is and the 2012 election was the clearest indicator yet. This exclusion does a disservice to every Republican.

For the Grand Old Party to emerge stronger from the situation it faces right now after being defeated handily in two consecutive Presidential elections, it must start by modernization of the process of platform creation. It must include the broader membership in the fold so that they may actually have a say about where the party goes from here.

The 2012 platform was prepared in advance of the Republican National Convention, and was provided to platform delegates only the night before the platform meetings began. The “modern” platform was provided on paper, rather than digitally, and the delegates were required to file amendments by 7:00 AM. Worse, the amendments were required to be submitted on paper and in formal legislative format. On Capitol Hill, teams of attorneys spend days preparing this format for Members of Congress). By design, these rules made it difficult for delegates to propose amendments, and nearly impossible for non-delegate Republicans to facilitate the writing of amendments. I know because I was one such party member in communication with quite a number of platform delegates trying to add something to the platform myself.

Even if an amendment were ready and filed before the deadline, in every room there were representatives from the campaign ready to stop amendments that they deemed too novel. Delegates who had their amendments “vetoed” were often told that the campaign was not adequately prepared for that particular amendment. How could they be with only 11 hours in the middle of the night to prepare?

As a result of this complicated process, a few special interest groups have gained expertise in learning how to manipulate and advocate for their own interests but the average Republican’s voice is seldom heard. Part of the problem with the platform process is that it is written in the confines of a heated electoral cycle where there is strong incentive to not rock the boat and to avoid new ideas. Why risk a public relations disaster so close to the election?

Three months before an election is not the time to find new ideas for the party. The platform process is designed to avoid controversy to the extent possible. This is how you get a manufactured platform that doesn’t excite the party.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that as a result the platform is rarely read by the supporters of the party at all. Ask yourself, “When have you ever heard a Republican quote from the Republican platform?” At 50 pages, there is certainly text to quote, but have you ever heard a Republican refer anyone to read the platform for an explanation of what they believe as a Republican?

This is unacceptable.

The power behind a modern “platform” created through thoughtful inclusion of modern conservative ideas, fostered through discussion and insight from kitchen tables in Ripon, Wisconsin to the halls of Congress, is undeniable. It is much more than a better platform, it is ownership of the better platform because of being included in the process. It is not just a better platform, it is OUR better platform, and thus the Party.

In a brief attempt at inclusion this summer, the Republican National Committee created www.gopplatform2012.com to do basically what I’m calling for (don’t bother heading to that URL now, because it simply re-directs to www.GOP.com). Sadly, this website initiative was never seriously embraced by the party and at its best was an appeasement. It was designed to give the impression of party inclusion – when in reality it was a carefully managed and staged event that pretended to provide a social experience for user input while allowing for little real discussion. In the last two weeks before the convention, the site did not appear to have approved a single platform thread or comment. These last two weeks should have been the period of primary utility for this website. I know this because I was one person eagerly submitting ideas and replying to others ideas – none of which were approved.

We must use this time, right now, to begin a discussion with our conservative friends, family and colleagues that is translated into a cohesive vision that represents where the GOP is today.

By fostering a social media driven Republican Platform 2.0, driven by Americans across the country, this can be achieved.

Just as we support creative destructive principles in business, we must foster a competition of ideas among conservatives to decide upon the best policy for the party going forward. This process should take place now rather during a three years from now, so that when party delegates vote on the Party’s platform in 2016, they are voting on vetted ideas that have been thoughtfully considered, utilizing new technology to articulate their opinions via Twitter, Facebook, and even through YouTube videos. When the special interests come to the Convention – they will have to contend with the collective input and will of average Republicans across the country.

The proposed open sourced platform should be the first volley in rebuilding the GOP’s social media strategy. Much has been written about the Obama campaign outmaneuvering the Republicans on social media. The Growth and Opportunity report also reached similar conclusions, but if we act now that will be a temporary advantage rather than a permanent one. To be clear, after implementing this proposal there will be significant work ahead of us to compete effectively with the Democrats in these new technologies – but if we utilize these new technologies, many in the younger generation will step up when asked to assist the party. I for one volunteer my full energies to the Republican Party in this endeavor and have already set up a domain for this purpose, if the GOP wishes to take me up on it. This open sourced platform will embrace a new generation of Republicans that feels increasingly disconnected from the current Republican establishment.

Maybe some elements of the party won’t like the discussions that we will have in an open process. It is likely to include questions regarding the assassination of American citizens, our continued involvement in Afghanistan, social policy, gay-rights, copyright reform, patent reform and high skilled immigration – but should the party truly be afraid of the opinions of its own members? Is the establishment afraid to have these conversations for fear that it will lose? If we are afraid to have a conversation simply because we think we may lose, then we have probably lost already.

Follow Derek Khanna @DerekKhanna.

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