Republican Party’s 2010 fundraising strategy: fear

Leaked document gives look into way RNC thinks of its donors; what's revealed isn't pretty

Topics: Republican Party, War Room, 2010 Elections,

It hasn’t been terribly hard to divine the Republicans’ strategy for motivating their base this year — they’ve made it pretty clear, after all. It’s fear. Fear of President Obama, fear of change, fear of some giant socialist revolution, of death panels, of government bureaucrats and liberals and anything else that might pop up. Still, you wouldn’t expect the Republican National Committee to come right out and admit to that.

That’s exactly what RNC Finance Director Rob Bickhart did, however, as part of a presentation he gave to donors and fundraisers last month. The presentation, obtained by Politico’s Ben Smith, includes several slides that portray the GOP’s own supporters in a very negative light, giving the impression that the RNC believes its donors are stupid, and that it plans to treat them that way.

One of the slides (three can be seen below; the full presentation is available for download in PDF form here) divides donors into two groups — major donors and smaller ones who are reached through direct marketing efforts. The latter group, the slide says, gives for visceral reasons: “Fear” and “Extreme negative feelings toward existing Administration” are listed. The slide also tags this group with a term usually used in an less-than-flattering sense: “Reactionary.” The major donors don’t fare much better; they give, the slide says, for “Networking Opportunities” and “Access” and they’re “Ego-Driven.”

Another slide sums up the message this way: “What can you sell when you do not have the White House, the House or the Senate …? Save the country from trending toward Socialism!”

The RNC has moved quickly ot put some distance between itself and the presentation.

“The document was used for a fundraising presentation Chairman [Michael] Steele did not attend, nor had he seen the document,” RNC Communications Director Doug Heye told Politico.

“Obviously, the Chairman disagrees with the language and finds the use of such imagery to be unacceptable. It will not be used by the Republican National Committee — in any capacity — in the future.” (The imagery referred to is, presumably, another slide that shows caricatures of Obama as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It can be seen below.)

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The Democratic National Commitee used  the occasion for a particularly vicious slam against its Republican counterpart.

“If you had any doubt, any doubt whatsoever, that the Republican Party has been taken over by the fear-mongering lunatic fringe, those doubts were erased today. The Republican Party, which barely 20 percent of Americans will even admit they belong to anymore, seems hell bent on damaging their battered brand even further by engaging in the most despicable kind of imagery, tactics and rhetoric imaginable,” DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

“It’s no wonder the RNC reacted with alarm when they learned the American people would see this presentation. This revealing document proves what the Republican party has long denied. But now, by their own admission, the express strategy of the Republican party is not to offer new ideas, but ‘fear.’ Republicans can no longer deny that they are peddling fear when they are literally selling it as their path back to power.”

One former RNC official told Salon he believes the story here is not the contents of the presentation but the fact that it became public because, according to Smith, a copy was left behind at the hotel where it was given.

“I would be kicking somebody’s ass for leaving something like that lying around,” the former official said. “It’s certainly not something that Chairman Steele needs to be dealing with, given his tenure as chair of the RNC, because it seems like just when things quiet down, something else comes up. To me, at least, in reading this and looking at it probably the bigger story is these things just keep popping up under his watch, as opposed to the actual content of this.”

The former RNC official did describe the material as being in “very poor taste,” especially the images of Obama, Pelosi and Reid, and that the presentation was “ham-handed.” But, they said, “I wouldn’t say there was anything in there that really shocked me or surprised me.” Referring to party committees and interest groups on both sides, the former official added, “Maybe I’m coming across as cynical, and I don’t mean to be, but I guess from long years of doing this I’m not particularly shocked to see this … I think that this is probably unfortunately a reflection of the state of political affairs today.”

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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