"Base" Motivation

by digby

So President Bush's former pollster, Matthew Dowd has publicly repudiated his old boss in an intereview in the New York Times because he is so dissapointed that bush has not been the kind of uniter he thought he would be:

Ex-Aide Details a Loss of Faith in the President

In 1999, Matthew Dowd became a symbol of George W. Bush’s early success at positioning himself as a Republican with Democratic appeal.

A top strategist for the Texas Democrats who was disappointed by the Bill Clinton years, Mr. Dowd was impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington. He switched parties, joined Mr. Bush’s political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the president’s chief campaign strategist.

Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush’s leadership.

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a “my way or the highway” mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides.

Boy, aint it the truth. And where would he have gotten that idea that was a good idea, do you suppose?

A former Democratic consultant, Matthew Dowd was the chief campaign strategist for Bush-Cheney 2004 and director of polling and media planning for Bush-Cheney 2000. Here, he describes how, even as the Florida recount was progressing, he and Karl Rove were already thinking about a re-election campaign in the event that Bush won. Dowd tells FRONTLINE that while most of the resources in the 2000 campaign were devoted to trying to win over independents, his post-election analysis showed that only 6 to 7 percent of the electorate was truly "persuadable."

This is a transcript of that interview conducted on Jan. 4, 2005.

Let me go back to 2000 for just a minute. ... Where did this idea of a base strategy come from? And was it as revolutionary then as it was reported as being when we all look back? When did you first hear about it? Is it your idea?

Well, it's interesting. Obviously, as you looked at 2000, approached 2000, motivating Republicans was important, but most of our resources [were] put into persuading independents in 2000. One of the first things I looked at after 2000 was what was the real Republican vote and what was the real Democratic vote, not just who said they were Republicans and Democrats, but independents, how they really voted, whether or not they voted straight ticket or not. And I took a look at that in 2000, and then I took a look at it, what it was over the last five elections or six elections.

And what came from that analysis was a graph that I obviously gave Karl, which showed that independents or persuadable voters in the last 20 years had gone from 22 percent of the electorate to 7 percent of the electorate in 2000. And so 93 percent of the electorate in 2000, and what we anticipated, 93 or 94 in 2004, just looking forward and forecasting, was going to be already decided either for us or against us. You obviously had to do fairly well among the 6 or 7 [percent], but you could lose the 6 or 7 percent and win the election, which was fairly revolutionary, because everybody up until that time had said, "Swing voters, swing voters, swing voters, swing voters, swing voters."

And so when that graph and that first strategic imperative began to drive how we would think about 2004, nobody had ever approached an election that I've looked at over the last 50 years, where base motivation was important as swing, which is how we approached it. We didn't say, "Base motivation is what we're going to do, and that's all we're doing." We said, "Both are important, but we shouldn't be putting 80 percent of our resources into persuasion and 20 percent into base motivation," which is basically what had been happening up until that point, because of -- look at this graph. Look at the history. Look what's happened in this country. And obviously that decision influenced everything that we did. It influenced how we targeted mail, how we targeted phones, how we targeted media, how we traveled, the travel that the president and the vice president did to certain areas, how we did organization, where we had staff. All of that was based off of that, and ultimately, thank goodness, it was the right decision.

That is a huge part of why the "compassionate conservative" turned into a total wingnut. Dowd is very modest these days about his part in that. In fact, he didn't mention it at all in the NY Times article and the reporter didn't bother to mention it either. But let's just say that I'm a little bit skeptical about Matthew Dowd's sincerity about anything. He went from being a Democrat in 1999 to jump on the Bush train, advised him that he pretty much didn't need to bother trying to answer to anybody but his rabid wingnut base and now that it's all fallen apart he's boo-hooing to the NY Times about he feels betrayed.

He claims to be a believer so maybe he can have a conversation with his priest or pastor about where he might have gone wrong in all this. I don't think the rest of us can give him absolution.

Update: Julia sends along this little tid-bit from Adam Nagourney in the NY Times, back when Dowd was strutting in 2003:

This shift signals that the 2004 election will have a much greater reliance on identifying supporters and getting them to the polls. That would tip the balance away from the emphasis on developing nuanced messages aimed at swing voters, who make up 10 percent to 20 percent of the electorate, pollsters said.

The change has the potential, several strategists said, of encouraging the presidential candidates to make the kind of unvarnished partisan appeals that they once tried to avoid out of concern of pushing away independent-minded voters. "If both sides are
concerned about motivating their base, the agenda difference between the two is much more dramatic," Mr. Dowd said. "I actually think it could make for a much more interesting election."

Oh my yes.