Having been the guy to officially ‘pull the plug’ on Team Leader, I can tell you it was not a matter of ‘giving up’ on it. It was, in the end, a tragic loss due to my overestimation of how much support I actually had for creating a Republican destination through GOP.com.
The idea was to build a bigger and better program that was more open, more engaging and a true online community – something akin to a cross between RedState and Townhall. The difference would be the connection to a voter file to register, ID and turnout voters, inviting self-mobilization through volunteer activities, and syndication of the system across state party, candidate and activist websites.
We had two problems with the Team Leader program and attempted to address both as part of the rebranding and retooling.
Our first problem was the name. The name of the program actually ended up limiting its success. When you focus group things before you release them, you discover issues like this. As it turned out, a lot of people were afraid of the “Team Leader” title because, while they wanted to be involved, they felt intimidated by the idea of “being in charge” of anything. We actually saw this on the Bush campaign and changed the name from Bush Team Leaders to Bush Volunteers. When we did, our take rate exploded.
The other problem was the disconnect between the Team Leader effort and GOP.com. As in a lot of places, the RNC had different divisions doing different (and often competing) things online. GOP.com had been run out of Communications while GOPTeamLeader was run out of Political. They competed for budget dollars and eyeballs. In redesigning GOP.com after the 2004 elections, we combined all those efforts under one roof. We changed the name to GOP Teams, and the verbiage to being ‘a part of the team’.
As I said, a much broader social networking program and more options for true involvement were to be the foundation of the effort. This ultimately ended up being the MyGOP tool – and was a faint shadow of the original idea.
Unfortunately, I underestimated the opposition to open systems that I encountered. The aversion to letting go of the message and allowing individual supporters to grab and run with it proved to great. With the advantage of 20/20 hindsight, I would not have dismantled a relatively successful if top-heavy system like Team Leader to end up with what exists now.
This is illustrative of a larger problem the GOP has. This is where I part with David on his belief that a party-sponsored web 2.0 infrastructure will bridge the digital divide. I believe that divide is a function of a much deeper distrust of letting the message go. If the GOP is going to be successful online, we cannot wait for the party to do it.
As the Democrats have shown, this will need to be organized by those in the party who get it. We will have to drag the party apparatus, kicking and screaming, to the dance.