CPAC 2013: Bloggers Are the Front Line Freedom Fighters of the GOP

ByAli Akbar

Digital is a medium, not a playbook, not a social network, not gadgets and toys, but a medium in which very real people interact in a very real way. Until the GOP recognizes and starts adapting to that end, it'll be at a loss.

As part of the second wave of digital professionals in my party (I had one of the first new media firms assisting Republican campaigns and conservative causes), I focused on my pre-political career strengths – design and open source frameworks – and I successfully made the case that designers and developers needed to brought inside.

My old business partner said something the other day that struck me, "We are the tinkers of this medium, much like Henry Ford and the car. Today, he wouldn't be able to build one."

I'm no dinosaur yet, but it reminded me of what first attracted me to forgoing what I call "the real private sector" to take a pay-cut entering a field that had maybe a few dozen of us in it. I started a firm, I designed and hired a developer. We built things before it was cool. Years later, we would merge with the only Republican political technology firm to together form Vice & Victory. We made the case that PayPal was a threshold many donors weren't willing to use, that WordPress could be customized into a website, and that proprietary platforms built by GOP bigwigs would be akin to killing the baby in the bathwater.

Mission accomplished. Now everyone in the GOP uses WordPress, good web design is valued, and unlike "in the beginning," there have been several donation platforms owned by consultants that aren't trying to gauge double-digit percentages out of online contributions. We helped change the GOP political landscape.

Now while the GOP finds itself asking some of the same types of questions as when I entered the field, there are at least ten thousand GOP digital operatives.

I am now working to blaze a trail with bloggers. Blogger outreach and digital public relations is still in its infancy and headed in a very positive direction. What inspired me to put this in my portfolio of consulting services was studying the work of pioneers like Jon Henke, Patrick Ruffini, and Patrick Hynes. It was honest engagement and beyond just press release distribution. I was fascinated by how some of these professionals were both vocal advocates for pet issues but also beltway consultants. It seemed you really could have both! After nearly seven years in the business, I exist in that space. Somehow I get contracts for my professional expertise with the client being comfortable with the fact that I'm vocal, I blog, and I have a following that appreciates the authentic blunt pop-offs that I've become known for.

Just last year we launched the National Bloggers Club at our annual Blog Bash event.

Blog Bash is what I refer to as the best kept secret on the center-right. It's the largest gathering of bloggers, both small and influential, each year since 2010. We've always been off-record every year, until this one. That's because on March 14, bloggers will change the digital landscape as we officially kick-off National Bloggers Club and our advocacy arm. Bloggers will be better represented, more thoroughly credentialed at events, and have an organization owned and operated by us, for us.

I believe that digital, especially for Republicans, must move from a dissemination tool to a medium by which we persuade. The marriage between communications and digital hasn't yet found a harmony, but it's coming. And I believe it starts with building communities.

From the tea party movement to exposing the president's weaknesses on Solyndra and Benghazi, to catching journalistic malpractice too often found at the networks and cable channels – bloggers have been there.

Bloggers are the modern-day pamphleteers and the front line freedom fighters. They are the most powerful force for good and have saved the GOP's ass countless times. I have witnessed this myself on my own campaigns.

Tools, micro sites, and money-bombs are good and necessary, but are nothing without these online influencers weighing in and sharing their readerships.