Last week, we discussed how badly conservative goals suffer from the lack of a real effort to inform people of what’s really going on. Expecting the Republican Party in its current form to improve in that regard is all but hopeless, but the Tea Party is ideally suited to picking up the slack. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s been kind of quiet lately.
The movement’s current state isn’t as clear-cut as partisans on either side would suggest. It’s hardly the empty shell liberals would like to dismiss it as, but nor has it truly sparked an imminent conservative revolution.
Its primary handicap is that while many Tea Partiers excel in their understanding of America’s founding principles, they’re sorely lacking in strategic acumen. Case in point: last year, Ken Crow and Tim Selaty Sr. and Jr. launched Tea Party Community, a social-networking “safe haven for the conservative movement where we can share ideas and thoughts and express ourselves without fear of retribution,” a reference to conservative personalities such as Chicks on the Right and Todd Starnes, who’ve seen Facebook wrongly censor some of their content as “offensive.”
If the goal is simply to help conservatives interact more freely, then mission accomplished. But Crow expected bigger things from TPC. “This helps us begin the organizational process of the Tea Party movement,” he told Starnes in an interview. “We’ve been a little too disorganized. It cost us the election in 2012. We’ve all agreed – never again.” On that score, Tea Party Community is likely to disappoint.
If there’s one thing the Right doesn’t lack, it’s online real estate. As of this writing, Tea Party Nation’s site boasts 12,342 forums and 52,787 members who have formed 533 groups. Tea Party Patriots’ site helps users find, join, and coordinate events with Tea Party groups in every state. FreedomWorks’ site does the same, with 257,855 users, 8,065 groups, and 1,063 events. Even a small list of popular conservative websites that facilitate user discussion—Liberty Alliance, Townhall, Hot Air, National Review, Breitbart, Red State, Free Republic, the Blaze, PJ Media, Right Wing News, Fox Nation—represents a massive amount of grassroots interaction.
Even on Facebook, the occasional unjustly blocked post hasn’t truly stopped hundreds of thousands of conservatives from communicating and organizing over countless groups dedicated to every conceivable right-of-center faction and cause.
All these tools didn’t “begin the organizational process?” Doing the same exact things on a new website will somehow reverse our fortunes?
The Right’s problem isn’t that we don’t talk to each other enough, but that so many of us talk only to each other. As valuable as conservative blogs, forums, magazines, and shows are in keeping us informed of the latest news, details, events, and arguments, ultimately they’re just reinforcing what their audiences already know, and their influence where it really counts—independent and undecided Americans—is minimal.
These outlets only reach people who proactively seek them, or are led there by a friend or relative. The final frontier lies with the large segment of the population whose political information consumption will simply never extend far beyond their morning paper and the six-o’clock news. We can’t expect people to go out of their way to find us if they don’t know why they shouldn’t be content with what they’ve already got.
So if we can’t pin our hopes on getting more people to come to us, we have to figure out how to go to them – to get the key facts and our unfiltered ideas in the places they’re already going and seeing and watching. For all its flaws, Facebook is a potent tool for doing exactly that. However limited that influence may be, giving it up for the umpteenth Tea Party echo chamber doesn’t make sense on any level.
And beyond that, we have to better appreciate the limitations of the Internet. Since my last column, the Republicans have cut some solid ads basically delivering the message I suggested. Unfortunately, they were web-only videos, meaning they’re handicapped by the aforementioned echo chamber effect.
So while it might be heresy in this Internet-infatuated day and age, it’s time to put some serious money into more low-tech channels of communication—quotes from Democrats admitting they really want a single-payer takeover posted on billboards entire cities see on their way to work, percentages of doctors who plan to quit and predict disaster in full-page newspaper ads, and the Obama Administration’s scheme to willfully harm Americans during the shutdown exposed during the commercial breaks of American Idol, 60 Minutes, and Monday Night Football.
ObamaCare isn’t destined to survive, and the Tea Party isn’t fated for irrelevance. But in order for conservatives to really start winning again, we have to shed our more insular instincts, focus less on serving the faithful with rallies and websites, and work on new strategies for spreading our limited-government message to our neighbors still ensnared in media myths and pop-culture presuppositions.