The RNC’s blistering 2013 “Growth and Opportunity Project” report hammered the party for its perceived inability to connect with American voters, in particular the younger demographic.
The GOP's solution? Facebook.
The Republican National Committee recently hired former Facebook engineer Andy Barkett to fill the newly created post of chief technology officer. Barkett told FoxNews.com he’s spent the past few weeks working to address the “digital divide.”
“We’ve been building stuff,” Barkett told FoxNews.com. “At Facebook there are signs that ‘say move fast and break things.’ That was the mantra I had in my mind going into things.”
Barkett said he is developing new tools and platforms, data warehouses and databases. It's essentially a massive, synchronized new infrastructure that one would expect to find at a bank or corporation -- but not necessarily in the U.S. government.
“It’s not a single piece of software. It’s dozens of pieces of software,” he said. “We’re going to release tools in the next couple of months, but we’ll keep updating them. We’ll never stop.”
'At Facebook there are signs that ‘say move fast and break things.’ That was the mantra I had in my mind.'
- Andy Barkett, former Facebooker and CTO for the RNC
The changes should roll out soon, too: “We’re looking to put stuff out by the end of year, for the 2014 elections,” he told FoxNews.com.
Barkett has his work cut out for him. The Growth and Opportunity Report -- an “autopsy” of the 2012 election that was released in March -- excoriated the party, highlighting its failure to attract younger voters and the lack of digital systems that many say helped elect President Barack Obama.
“Technology is second nature to young voters. Using social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, and Instagram is important, but we also need to be actively looking for and utilizing the newest and most cutting-edge social media platforms to engage this generation,” the report reads.
Barkett told FoxNews.com he plans to do exactly that, working with companies like Twitter, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and more, and building digital tools in the cloud with Amazon and Microsoft, Cloudspace and Rackspace. The goal is to help the party find new demographics, build long term relationships with voters, and better communicate with Americans under 30.
“Young voters need to be attracted to the Republican Party by both the message and the candidate. Obama was seen as ‘cool’ in 2008, and his popularity spread like wildfire among young voters,” the report said.
New tools will help. New staff will, too: Noting that digital now plays an important role in strategy too, the RNC also hired Chuck DeFeo to be its chief digital officer and made him a deputy chief of staff.
These critical change follows a 2012 Election Day mishap that demonstrated a real GOP weakness – its need to be “more sophisticated” with data and corroboration. Mitt Romney’s key program, code-named ORCA, was meant to be a high-tech means for campaign volunteers to track who voted and alert its headquarters in Boston if voter turnout was low. The system instead buckled for 90 minutes under the strain and resulted in a mass panic by Romney workers.
Zac Moffatt, then the campaign’s digital director, told the Boston Globe that the problems were not “election determinative” and the campaign still had reports from 91 percent of counties, as well as information about 14 million voters by the end of Election Day.
Moffatt, also the co-founder of the data firm Targeted Victory, declined to comment when questioned by FoxNews.com.
Unlike Obama’s digital operations, which are largely owned and controlled by his campaign organization, according to the Washington Post, the RNC’s system will be there for the entire Republican party.
“We will build many tools to help on all ends of our new permanent campaign including how to share data better, tools to help with Get Out The Vote efforts and more,” GOP spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski told FoxNews.com.
Some Democrats say that the GOP has a habit of promising great technology and eventually not succeeding. The GOP hopes Barkett’s experience at the social network will change that.
“At Facebook, they release changes to the live site twice a day, sometimes more. We might not be quite that fast,” Barkett said. “But we’ll never stop.”
Jeremy A. Kaplan is Science and Technology editor at FoxNews.com, where he heads up coverage of gadgets, the online world, space travel, nature, the environment, and more. Prior to joining Fox, he was executive editor of PC Magazine, co-host of the Fastest Geek competition, and a founding editor of GoodCleanTech.