Transcription – Ken Mehlman Interview

Q: And I wondered did you think ’04 had given you the potential to do that?

MEHLMAN: I — look, I think that the most… The reason I ask people to read Moneyball (laughs) is not only because I think metrics are critical. [50:00] And anyone who I’ve worked with will tell you I’m obsessed with metrics. But equally importantly is the real lesson of Moneyball is that the greatest players are not people that hit home runs. They’re people that get on base. And if you can consistently get on base and get on base and get on base, you’re going to do pretty well in life, whether it’s in politics or business or anything else. And so, to me, the key was not to say, “We’re going to be the next FDR,” or, “the next Reagan.” That’s trying to hit a homerun. It’s can we create durable victories, that are necessarily incremental but they’re durable? But we repeat them and we repeat them and we repeat them. And that’s the key to success. And that’s what we were trying to do.

Q: We began with lessons you learned from 2000. Were there lessons you learned from ’04?

MEHLMAN: Look, the lessons I learned was, one, the power of data analytics — incredibly important… And the power that has is something that I think has been repeated and (laughs) massively improved and perfected by President Obama’s campaign, twice, since [51:00] we did it. So that’s an interesting lesson. Second of all, in a world where there’s a wealth of information, as I mentioned before there’s a poverty of attention — and so the power of a personal recommendation that you believe in… Smart companies care most about, “Would you recommend my product or service to somebody else,” the power of recommendation. That’s true in candidates too. We built on that. And we tried to build that further. That will be a second lesson. Third, unless Republicans increase the denominator, we will not win elections. So simply showing up late in the game and speaking to La Raza or the NAACP or the National Urban League or the Asian American Association, all of those are not how you win an election. You win an election from, from the beginning, having a real dialogue with communities across this country. This is a much more diverse country than we’ve ever been before. And that’s a strength of our country. And we, as Republicans, the party of Lincoln, the party of McKinley, [52:00] the party of Reagan, the party of George W. Bush, every single time our party has had real and good victories, we’ve expanded the denominator. And we’ve expanded it to new groups and new constituents and new people, around a core idea of freedom! And that’s what we need to be doing. We did that aggressively. We tried to do it with President Bush. We came up short in some areas — no question. Wish we had done better. But that is a very important lesson too.

Q: Is this is an applicable lesson for the modern Republican Party?

MEHLMAN: Absolutely. Absol–

Q: Well, what I mean is groups that have been part of the core of the party are not interested in reaching out to —

MEHLMAN: I don’t think that’s true.

Q: — immigrants or…

MEHLMAN: I’m n– I don’t think that’s true. I think if you look at, for example, the efforts that you have among a whole lot of evangelical churches around this country with respect to missions in Africa and AIDS, I don’t believe that people aren’t interested. I think people are quite interested. If you look at the level of commitment to a secure Israel that you have in a whole lot of core Republican constituencies, I think people are interested in reaching out. [53:00] I think it’s about leadership that takes that interest and follows it and takes it to the next level, and inspires it, and takes it further. I think there can be that. Look, to — the real lessons of ’04 is this — are this. Excuse me. Number one, every candidate running for office, the first question they need to be asked is, “Do you have a hopeful agenda?” — “Do you have a hopeful agenda for the future?” Second, “What is your real experience in, as a candidate for office, expanding the denominator, making the denominator bigger?” appealing to new constituencies that make it so that we don’t have to win these incredibly tight elections where, if you make one mistake, there’s no way you can win. Three, “Do you have a team that will make decisions based on metrics, as opposed to the old Washington ways of doing things?” Critical to our victory in ’04 was our public acknowledgment that we hadn’t as well as we should have in 2000. We said, “We can do better.” The 72 hour taskforce was a public statement that didn’t do what most people try to do, which is to explain why you really did well and essentially do the political [54:00] equivalent of grade inflation. (laughs) It’s to say, “We actually can learn from the fact that we came up a little bit short.” Are they honest with themselves? That’s an important question. And finally, do they have an ability to inspire social media? That’s how restaurants fill their tables every single day. That’s how products are sold. Do they think like the world that we live in today, a Facebook world, a world where people rely on their friends and contact those friends through social media for inspiration? And are they able to do that? Those are all things that we try to do. Did well in others. Others, we came up a bit short — but that are important to the future.

Q: Well, thank you —

MEHLMAN: Thanks, a lot.

Q: — Ken Mehlman.

MEHLMAN: It’s been fun! [54:42]

Ken Mehlman Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 13 December 2013, accessed at

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