Transcription – Mike Shannon Interview

Q:                    The turnout in ’04 was dramatically higher than in 2000.  Which brings to mind what you said earlier about this being a mobilization election.  Could you talk about that?  I mean, did the turnout conform to what you had been working toward, and expected to happen?

SHANNON:      It — I think the extraordinary thing about the 2004 election for us, having a theory of the campaign that it was a mobilization election, was that it did bear out.  And that we — when you look at the exit polls from [00:56:00] 2004, it was the first time in modern presidential history that the Republican Party had turned out in equal numbers to the Democratic Party.  That is, people who said “I am a Republican” in the exit poll, that was equal, I think it was 38/38, somewhere in the thirties.  We had equal number of Republicans and Democrats voting, so we were very pleased by that number, and that really carried us to victory, was to get that number up.  So, a lot of our activities, certainly advertising, field work, the micro-targeting, all the political innovation, you know, that had happened, was marshaled to try to turn out the base.

Q:                    You have to talk — I’m sorry.

SHANNON:      Yeah, yeah.  I was going to say, and we also, we had a really — we had a great digital team.  I don’t think the 2004 [00:57:00] team, the 2004 effort gets enough credit for what we did digitally.  We had an all-star group of people, Chuck DeFeo, who’s gone on and done many things, and is now trying to lead the renaissance at the RNC, and digital’s going to come back on the team 10 years later.  Michael Turk, Patrick Ruffini, Mindy Finn, who went onto Twitter.  Justin German, he’s one of the top videographers, we had — we didn’t know it at the time, but the amount of talent we had on the digital team was extraordinary.  And we — they ran an extraordinary operation.  We used a web video, we released ads as web videos, that was the first time any candidate had done that.  And we had a very sophisticated online team leader program where we engaged a lot of our grassroots, a lot of our base [00:58:00] in taking actions for us.  Yard signs, going to events, door knocking, kind of very early version of what then accelerated dramatically with the Obama team in 2008, and then onto 2012.  We didn’t have the social tools to put underneath that.  But our digital effort, we had a massive email list we’d built over the years.  All of that was part of the successful mobilization.

Q:                    What we haven’t talked about so far are the groups of non-traditional, non-Republicans who voted for Bush in unusual numbers.  I’m thinking Latinos, I think women voters to some degree, where going from 48% to 51% was in part mobilizing voters at a higher rate than the Democrats, although they did well.  But also, getting votes from non-traditional [00:59:00] groups.  Was that a separate kind of strategic prong?

SHANNON:      Well, the — I think it’s — if we can call it strategy, we can also just say it’s, you know, who the president was and is.  Since his days of governor — as governor, he was someone who reached out to non-traditional Republican groups, to non-Republican groups.  Of course in 2000, he talked about being a different kind of Republican.  He, I think being a governor of a border state, understood the immigration issue very well, and had an immigration reform policy that resonated in the Latino community.

Q:                    Does that explain the jump from 2000 to 2004?

SHANNON:      Well I think there’s jumps that occur because the country kind of moves.  So there’s some that’s just a natural [01:00:00] evolution of — or kind of a natural momentum among all groups.  So, if — you know, if the president gets — you know, performs three to four points better nationally, then we would expect to see those groups to rise — every group to rise three or four points.  And then there’s groups that kind of move beyond that.  We definitely — we spend a lot of time on our Spanish language advertising.  There was a whole strategy around that, from a media buying perspective, from an outreach perspective, though I will say one of the things we decided was to spend a lot of time on Spanish language advertising, but not do too much custom Spanish language advertising.  What we learned is that Hispanic voters, at least in 2004, a lot of them, they wanted to hear about the same things everybody else [01:01:00] was hearing.  They didn’t necessarily want to be treated like some special group.  And so, we wanted to be culturally attuned from a language perspective, from an are we in the right places perspective.  And we did have some, you know, custom advertising.  But we also just did a lot of our campaign advertising in Spanish language media.

Q:                    How much of a campaign is about winning on Election Day, and how much of it is about laying the predicate for what the president will have, using the term very loosely, a mandate to do if he’s reelected?

SHANNON:      Yeah.  I think mandates are — that’s a big word.  I think it’s kind of like, it depends on what the definition of mandate is, in a way.  There’s winning, I think [01:02:00] in this polarized environment where it’s almost — virtually impossible to say when 60% of the country, what’s a mandate in this polarized environment, is it winning 51, 53, 52?  I mean President Bush was the first presidential candidate to win a majority since 1988, in 2004, just because of the dynamics of the other races.  So in some sense, it — there was a mandate feel.  But in other senses, we’d won 51%.  So, there’s 49% who didn’t vote for us.  So, I think re– I mean, I think reelections, to me, are about just getting to Election Day, and being president still.  Because you’re already president, you’re doing things, and versus I think the challenger campaign is much more about setting, I think the agenda setting.  President Bush, when he ran in 2000, a lot of what happened in 2000, a lot of the [01:03:00] themes, a lot of the policy papers, that then, when we got to Washington, with No Child Left Behind, the tax cuts, those were all from the laboratory of the campaign, and the campaign agenda.  I think for incumbents, reelection, the agendas are less about the agenda that they’re going to pursue, because they’re already president.

Q:                    Even though the convention you said was designed to present the forward looking —

SHANNON:      That’s right.

Q:                    — agenda.

SHANNON:      That’s right.

Q:                    Did that just not continue on through the post-convention campaign to the same degree?

SHANNON:      I don’t have — I’ll be talking as an outsider now, because after the 2004 campaign concluded, I went back to Chicago and retired into the warm arms of graduate school at Northwestern, and watched from afar, remembering my old mentor’s advice, “Beware of second terms.”  I think [01:04:00] the president — watching from afar, he and the team decided to pursue Social Security reform, and the country wasn’t ready for it.  That was a piece of that agenda. And of course in politics, sequencing matters, and so they went for Social Security reform, couldn’t get it done, and I think that defeat really set the stage for other defeats, you know, legislatively.  So, I think maybe the mandate, maybe it was thought to be, you know, bigger than it was, in order to try to get something like Social Security reform passed, which is a massive undertaking.

Q:                    This is an unfairly big question to spring on anybody, but it sounds like, from what you’ve said, or what you’ve quoted someone as saying, that beware of second terms, that there’s reason for that, [01:05:00] and that is the nature of the campaigns that lead to second terms.  (inaudible)?

SHANNON:      I think it’s a whole host of factors.  There is the accumulation of activities that a president undertakes over eight years.  And in that accumulation, if you’re running a country, there’s — when you get to your five, six, seven, eight, there’s a chance that somebody who worked for you did something they shouldn’t have.  So, scandal chance is dramatically higher in the second term, just because of time.  I think also that reelection campaigns are often really tough, and this one was tough, it was very negative, just — we just had a negative one in 2012.  So there’s a little — you know, but things aren’t as [01:06:00] — there’s not the momentum, when you begin a second term, it’s not like beginning a presidency.  When you begin a presidency, there’s the honeymoon period, and you’re fresh, and you have a fresh agenda, and you have those first two years before the midterms where you’re pursuing that agenda.  Whereas in the second term, you’re just still president.  And you’re coming out of — we were coming out of a tough campaign, the country was very polarized.  I think the other thing that happens to presidents is they — a lot of their most trusted advisors leave, and so there’s —

Q:                    Or go to graduate school?

SHANNON:      Well, no, I wouldn’t put myself in that category, but if you look at the — you know, the most senior command of the Bush White House, of the Bush campaigns, this has happened with every president.  They just kind of begin to cycle out.  And so [01:07:00] a president loses over time some of his most trusted sounding boards.  And also, some of the best talent is attracted early in an administration because it’s such a dynamic time, even getting Cabinet secretaries, getting senior White House staff, it’s much easier to attract day 1 of a presidency than day 500.  And so, you’ve got scandal probability is much higher in a second term, you’ve got a lot of turnover on staff, country maybe getting a little tired, and you don’t have that dynamic burst out of the gate with the honeymoon period.