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Break Up The GOP Consulting ‘Blob’ Before Another Campaign Bites The Dust

Ron DeSantis announces the end of his 2024 presidential campaign.
Image CreditRon DeSantis /X

Republicans should apply principles to methods, decentralizing our infrastructure and investing in real, long-term grassroots strength.

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Gov. Ron DeSantis’ departure from the GOP race this week gives Republicans yet another chance to learn a vital lesson. Somehow, though, we just don’t seem to be getting it. 

In the late spring of 2023, I was talking to a friend who had just taken a job with Never Back Down, the DeSantis super PAC. He was explaining to me that the DeSantis team had essentially given control of their entire operation to Axiom, a massive GOP consulting firm. “It’s over,” I replied, “he just lost.” 

When another friend (who now works for the Trump Campaign) learned what DeSantis was doing, he couldn’t stop laughing. 

In the popular imagination, political consultants are the talented practitioners of a kind of institutional dark arts, transforming bland, untalented politicians into effective electoral prizefighters. If only! Today, Republican consultants only know how to turn unique, exciting candidates into gray, unoriginal vessels for establishment corporatespeak. Like demented alchemists, consultants excel at turning gold into lead. Not a very good trick, really. The real magic, however, happens when they sell that lead for gold. 

Sure enough, Axiom took one of the best GOP governors in the country and drove his campaign (and at least some of his reputation) into the ground, even as they got rich doing it. When all is said and done, DeSantis 2024 will end up next to Jeb 2016 and others on the long (and growing) list of Republican candidates who paid tens of millions of dollars to consulting firms just to watch their campaigns disintegrate. 

It’s a wonder that these people get paid a dime, never mind that they have built a multibillion-dollar empire on the shoulders of repeated electoral wipeouts. Regrettably, though, there’s really no competition. While there are still talented political operatives on our side, they’re increasingly getting swallowed up by the consulting world — or, as I like to call it, “the blob.” 

Operatives with any shred of talent are quickly scooped up and shoved into a cubicle where they’ll spend the remainder of their careers offering vague advice and blandishments to GOP candidates on Zoom calls. While there, they don’t learn new skills, advance their careers, or contribute meaningfully to the cause. Instead, they languish in a kind of political purgatory that slowly transforms them into everything we hate about the ruling-class establishment in Washington — out of touch, unoriginal, cynical, and resentful. 

If you ever find yourself scratching your head at some of the strategies used by GOP candidates these days, consider that it was probably the brainchild of some middling consultant in Northern Virginia who hasn’t talked to a GOP voter since the Bush administration.

Take, for example, this recent interaction: I currently work as the executive director for a small political action committee in Pennsylvania that aims to improve Republican early vote margins in the state. On a recent call with the consultant-world campaign manager for a Pennsylvania candidate, I talked about how we go about persuading GOP voters to use mail-in ballots. “What I’d really like to see is some focus groups with Republican voters to hear why they don’t want to use mail-in ballots,” the operative said. 

I was speechless, did he really not understand why GOP voters didn’t trust mail-in ballots? How could you possibly work in the world of Republican politics and not intuitively understand the mistrust of mail-in ballots? 

“Well, you could spend a couple hundred thousand on focus groups,” I replied, “but you could also just knock on the doors of two dozen random Republicans and ask. You’ll get the same answer.” 

That didn’t seem to interest him.

Republicans have forgotten how to do anything without spending at least five figures. That means you need to raise money, and lots of it. You’ll need to rent a list, then pay up for the copy on the fundraising emails and the design of the letters, then pay the commission before finally covering the retainer on your consultant. Before you know it, you’ve become an unpaid employee for a consulting firm, doing little more than raising the money to pay your salary. 

One friend took a job managing a congressional campaign early in the ‘22 cycle in which they only managed to raise enough to pay the consultant, and that was after spending most of every day fundraising. I suggested that he and the candidate fire the consultant to save resources for a few months. But my friend said he couldn’t make this call as he had been hired directly by the firm and not by the candidate

The Trump-versus-DeSantis race should be the final nail in the coffin for the consulting blob. In many ways, Trump is the anti-consultant. He doesn’t rely on focus groups, analytics, or big data, even as he understands that those things have their place. As I frequently remind my colleagues in the industry, GOP voters have become exceptionally good at sniffing out BS. DeSantis, by giving over his campaign to the blob, may as well have been rolling around in the cow pasture. Trump passes the smell test every time because he is so obviously disconnected from the blob. 

Regrettably, most candidates don’t have the resources or the know-how to break out of the consulting world, and so they inevitably get sucked in. Even as trust in the blob plummets, there’s really not much to replace it. There is currently a shortage of political staff on the GOP side, which makes it harder for candidates and organizations to find any talent outside of the consulting world. Consultants don’t usually have talent, but they do have manpower — which is all you really need when you have a monopoly on it. 

Meanwhile, innumerable grassroots conservative groups around the country get left out of the conversation. My native Pennsylvania has literally hundreds of conservative groups, committees, and clubs with membership numbering easily in the tens of thousands. These are the people who actually do the work, and they certainly don’t get paid for it. They generally don’t have much money, though, and so they don’t get the attention. Not to mention, the Northern Virginia crew tends to find them rather uncouth.

Moving forward, Republicans should apply our principles to our methods, decentralizing our infrastructure and investing in real, long-term grassroots strength. Only when we learn how to do things for ourselves again can we stop relying on the parasitic blob that’s just picked another Republican carcass clean.


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