An Information-Age Donkey

Photo: Matthew Porter

Clinton war-room veteran Simon Rosenberg built his New Democrat Network into a formidable political operation with the help of financial backers in New York. Now he’s considering a dark-horse run for chair of the Democratic National Committee—and he’s been invited to address the Association of State Democratic Chairs in Orlando on December 11, along with such possible candidates as Howard Dean, Harold Ickes, and telecom exec Leo Hindery. Greg Sargent spoke with Rosenberg.

It seems like the Dems have a branding problem. What should they stand for?
Opportunity. The core principle of our party is that all Americans should be able to get ahead. A recent poll showed that even after the election the Democrats as a brand are viewed more favorably by Americans.

So how did the Democrats get into such a deep hole?
Unlike 50 years ago, today 9 percent of the workforce is unionized, and Americans have moved from the North to the South and West, where unions are weak and the GOP had a ready-made political infrastructure: churches and gun groups.

How can Democrats avoid sliding deeper into the minority?
We should learn from conservatives—William Buckley, Richard Viguerie—who over two generations systematically built a movement with billions of dollars. I call it an information-age Tammany Hall.

But Dems have a machine, too—why is the GOP’s more effective?
We rely too much on turnout, not enough on persuasion. The GOP still acts like they’re in the minority—they pour huge amounts of resources into persuading people to come to their side. We have to build a modern communications apparatus that emulates theirs.

Why are you the person to do that?
I come out of the media world—I’ve produced shows [for ABC]—and I helped create Clintonism from a policy standpoint in 1992.

But Dean and Ickes have more relationships than you do. We’ve given money to candidates in all 50 states—we have lots of friends.

An Information-Age Donkey