Several dozen Republican digital strategists met at the Capitol Hill Club on Thursday to hear what worked and what didn’t from the digital heads of the Mitt Romney campaign and the Republican National Committee.
According to three sources in the room, the two-hour meeting was a review of the key metrics from the campaign and a discussion about how the party can improve its digital strategies and prepare for 2016. It is widely acknowledged that President Barack Obama's re-election victory was built in part on a vastly superior digital effort.
The “entire GOP digital world” was there, one source said, plus representatives from Google, Facebook and Twitter. The meeting was led by Romney Digital Director Zac Moffatt, RNC Digital Director Tyler Brown and RNC Chief of Staff Jeff Larson.
Both the RNC and the Romney campaign have been criticized for their digital effort in 2012, especially for Romney’s much-hyped Project ORCA “get-out-the-vote” tool, and specifically that Obama raised more money online and had a more integrated digital operation.
But one source said they emerged from the meeting with a better understanding of what happened and the insurmountable odds Moffatt faced in trying to build a digital effort in five months that could compete with the Obama team.
The takeaway, sources said, was that the RNC needs to remain committed to building a digital infrastructure or else the party’s next presidential nominee will face the same disadvantages that Romney did. That, of course, depends in part on how much data the Obama campaign hands over to the Democratic National Committee.
To that end, the Romney campaign has given the RNC 1 million online donor emails and 2.2 million new active emails. More than 300 pages of memos on analytics and optimization will also be handed over to the RNC, along with framework infrastructure for Facebook and mobile apps.
One source said the meeting was so positive that it was almost as if Romney had won, and another source said most of the attendees emerged shaking hands and feeling mostly good about the discussion.
Part of the reason for that is Moffatt laid out how difficult it was to compete with the Obama team. One source said it was clear how “herculean” the task was for the Romney campaign and that it’s “probably unrealistic to put together an entire digital infrastructure for a billion-dollar operation in five months.” The Romney campaign’s digital team went from 14 staffers in April to 160 by November, the source said.
“The refrain that Zac basically said over and over again is that they had an enormous amount of work to do and not a lot of time to do it,” the source said. “And they were disadvantaged vis-a-vis Obama because Obama was the incumbent and had years to work on this, and they had to get through a primary.”
When asked to comment, an RNC official said the discussion delved into the RNC and Romney digital operations, the structure and how digital interacted with the communications, political and finance departments, plus the intricacies of the effort — online fundraising and advertising, mobile apps, social media, program development and analytics.
“Clearly what we did this cycle wasn’t enough, but we did a lot of good things with the time and resources we had and our efforts have steadily improved over the past decade,” the RNC official said. “This is the first step in a multistep process as we lay out the direction our party goes with its digital presence and how we get there.”