BUSH'S MICRO-TARGETTING SUCCESS AND MARKETING FAILURE. That said, I also happen to be in the corner of Boston that draws the most Washington types, and a couple of days ago it drew former AP chief political reporter Ron Fournier, Bush '04 strategist Matthew Dowd, and Democratic consultant Doug Sosnik to talk about their new book, Applebee's America: How Successful Political Business, and Religious Leaders Connect with the New American Community, which grew out of the seminar Fournier taught at the Institute of Politics and which will be reviewed by E.J. Dionne in the upcoming print edition of The Prospect. A freewheeling discussion followed, and I thought Dowd's admirably candid comments in particular might be of interest to Prospect readers, since Dowd's micro-targetting initiatives were so central to Bush's win in '04:
* The old model of political affiliation, according to Dowd, is that people have stances on issue that lead them to identify with a political party, which then leads them to chose candidates. The new model, which is particularly something you see at work in the exurbs, is that people make lifestyle choices and then look for candidates who seem in tune with their lifestyle choices. Those candidates happen to have a party, and that party has issue positions, but the first mover is lifestyle choices and cultural identification, not issue positions.
* Bush is probably not going to be able to regain the support of the American people unless something big and transformative happens. "You can't market your way back to a gut value," Dowd said, referring to a gut-level connection with the public. "Once you lose that gut value and that gut connection with the American public, you can't get it back through five press conferences." What happened with Bush is that he had the trust of the American public up through the summer of '05, and then over the course of that summer the number of deaths in Iraq rose; the president went on vacation; Cindy Sheehan went after him; and gas prices spiked. This all led to a growing feeling that "the president seems disconnected." "Then all of a sudden Katrina hits, and bam!" people started saying to themselves, "'OK, I was right, he's not the guy I thought he was.'"
* Heading into the fall and into '08, the question the country has is: "Who's going to be the person to make things work again?" "Every time they turn somewhere they get disappointed," said Dowd, so the person who can say, "Let's make stuff work that doesn't work" -- whether that be our disaster response or our military or our economy -- is the person with whom voters will develop a gut-value connection.
That sounds about right -- which means we can now add Dowd to the long list of Republican thinkers who are starting to sound like Democrats. Of course, Dowd's most recent electoral accomplishment was, as E.J. Dionne notes, "trying to identify and bring anti-Bush voters to the polls to renominate an anti-Bush senator who is his party's only hope for holding a Senate seat in a very anti-Bush state," so he could also simply have been reflecting his recent scholarship in anti-Bush thinking.