The more-promising work comes from young conservative activists building from the bottom up. This spring saw the launch of a Web site called The Next Right, formed in conscious imitation of left-wing communities such as Daily Kos and MyDD. Like those destinations, The Next Right is a community Web site—any registered user can start a blog—dedicated to debating the steps conservatives need to take to rebuild a Republican majority, and to pushing the Republican establishment toward a more forward-leaning communications strategy.
The driving force behind the site is Patrick Ruffini, the director of the Republican National Committee’s highly successful “eCampaign” operation from 2005 to 2007, who at 30 looks poised to become one of the most influential Republican political strategists of his generation. As a blogger, Ruffini has cast a harsh eye on Republican tactical failures, while offering more than grudging respect for Democratic successes. Ruffini’s lack of interest in “punditry,” a word he uses with disdain, and his number-cruncher’s love of hard data have set the tone for The Next Right, which has quickly built a cadre of would-be Karl Roves competing with each other to create the cleverest framing devices for where conservatism needs to go.
Another aggressive rightroots figure is David All, a boyish 29-year-old consultant who served as Georgia Congressman Jack Kingston’s ambassador to the blogosphere before opening his own shop. All speaks warmly of his relationship with Joe Trippi, Howard Dean’s campaign manager and a netroots legend, while promoting a more forward-looking, youth-oriented GOP that embraces geek-chic causes like net neutrality.
If Ruffini and company have set out to copy the community-building side of the netroots’ success, All aims to imitate their fund-raising achievements. Last October, he joined forces with a young California-based developer named Sendhil Panchadsaram to create Slatecard, a Web site that funnels contributions to conservative candidates. From its launch through late July, though, Slatecard raised an underwhelming $442,000; ActBlue raised nearly $30 million in the same period, and has raised more than $50 million since it started in 2004.
All points out that ActBlue took a while to get off the ground, falling short of $1 million during its first election cycle. But that was four years ago, which goes to show how much ground the rightroots have to make up.
Any success they achieve will probably come too late to help John McCain. Republicans looking to the online future might learn more from McCain’s vanquished primary rivals than from the nominee himself. The year’s most successful online conservative campaign belonged to the libertarian populist Ron Paul, whose army of young volunteers created their own Web sites, music, and videos touting Paul’s candidacy and channeling money his way. His astonishing fund-raising totals—$34 million overall—never translated into votes, but Paul’s supporters demonstrated how online tools could dramatically amplify the message of a determined minority.