If you don’t have 500 Facebook friends, David All won’t hire you.
All is the president of the eponymous David All Group (DAG), “the nation’s first conservative Web 2.0 agency.” All founded the group in 2007—the same year he launched Slatecard.com, a fundraising site for Republicans, and TechRepublican, a blog focusing on the intersection of politics and technology. All is not just looking to bridge the technological divide between Democrats and Republicans—he’s moving one step ahead.
“Democrats don’t really understand the stuff I’m thinking. They say they do, but they don’t,” says All, scribbling on a piece of paper as he sits behind his tidy desk. The 29-year-old, Diet Coke-drinking entrepreneur is fascinated by the “flattening of the world” brought about by the Internet, and wants to help the Grand Old Party leap into the new era.
It’s no small undertaking. Republicans have long lagged behind the Democrats in reaching out to the netroots, and the current presidential race is proving no different. While Barack Obama’s Facebook page numbers over 2 million “friends,” John McCain’s has a little over 300,000. During the primaries, the top three Democratic candidates raised twice as much in online fundraising as the top three Republican candidates.
Still, All insists he can overcome this track record. Asked about Act Blue, the Democratic online fundraising juggernaut and his main competitor, he shrugs: “They’ve never really done anything that great.…I want to produce something that’s not only simple and has a great user interface, but I also want it to be sophisticated, a real community, a place where others can act and drive a world, their world, around them. A world that connects around one politician.”
In this world, says All, candidates should no longer run on a few major issues. Instead, he recommends a “Netflix approach” for a Republican messaging strategy, because everyone wants a choice, and everyone favors certain issues. “Who are the people tasked with selling a Republican message on space travel to Mars? Who’s out there talking to that blogging community?” And it’s not just forming a message on every issue—it’s the delivery. “Who’s heading up the Republican video game caucus? I would like to know that.”
So what should a candidate with little Internet experience, like John McCain, do? Be himself, go on MTV, and Twitter, says All. “Not because I think Twittering is going to change the world, but because I think he’d be really good at it, because I think it’d make him a better communicator.”
Twitter alone might not change the world, but it’s definitely doing its part. An unabashed techno-enthusiast, All believes the Internet is moving us toward a more democratic world. “I actually believe that it will be the Internet that saves politics from itself,” he says. At times, he sounds more like a Slashdot forum discussing the Singularity than a cynical-minded political operative. “People don’t realize that the Internet isn’t some weird, obscure place,” he declaims at one point. “The Internet is me. David All is the Internet. And so are you. We all are the Internet.”
All wasn’t always a die-hard Republican. As a college student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, he considered himself a Democrat, dismissing the Republicans as “dorks,” corrupt, and money-driven: “Nothing I wanted to be a part of.”
It took a conversation with a Republican friend of his brother’s “who wears pink and dresses well” to bring out the Republican within. “I didn’t even realize that kind of person existed. I thought everyone wore these red ties and white shirts and blue suits and really bad shoes.” But that’s not David All, who finds comfort in jeans, T-shirts, and sneakers. Even at the office, he sports a casual white button-down shirt, no tie. The friend explained to All that the principles he admired, like free trade, were really Republican ideas. All decided that he must be a Republican, too, and the “sad thing” was he had been one his entire life.
“The single most important reason why I am a Republican is because of personal responsibility, through and through. It’s not because I remembered Ronald Reagan when I was nine years old, doing cannonballs and back flips and kick flips [at the public pool].”
And of those youngsters who claim to be Republicans because of Reagan: “I just think it’s so fake.”
All’s move toward politics was “a natural fit.” Originally set on a law career, he interned for a prosecutor and realized “how gross criminals are, and how dark that world is.” Politics better suited his charismatic demeanor and love of socializing: “I’m really into people, if you haven’t figured that out.”
After graduating, All landed a job as campaign manager to Ann Womer Benjamin, who was running against Democrat Tim Ryan for James Traficant’s old seat in Ohio’s17th District. “It’s not like I knew what the hell I was really doing,” laughs All. But through the campaign he found his strength: communications. “I could always find the hooks to get the press interested,” he says, and he certainly got them interested, earning press coverage at a 5:1 ratio to Ryan. Although they lost the race, All had captured the attention of Ohio Senator George Voinovich.
After a two-year stint as deputy communications director under Voinovich, working as an “off-the-record guy” and fine-tuning his writing skills, All became the communications director for Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA), the vice chairman of the House Republican Conference. Since Kingston was beloved by his constituency, he gave All a great deal of autonomy in his work. All utilized a different approach than his colleagues—he included his instant message screen name and personal cell phone number in his signature line, allowing the media to contact him whenever they wanted. “You have to be accessible,” he explains.
All needed to capture media attention, but programs like Meet the Press and Hardball didn’t want Kingston. Then Stephen Colbert called. Kingston appeared on the second episode of the show in the “Better Know a District” segment. All claims it was “random luck” that the show contacted him, and he’s still friends with Colbert today.
By using new media techniques like blogging, producing YouTube videos, and arranging appearances on non-conventional television programs, All propelled Kingston into the modern media world. “We were doing YouTube before YouTube was doing YouTube,” says All, borrowing a line from Joe Trippi. Together with six interns, he helped produce the YouTube series, “Journeys With Jack,” and made Kingston an Internet star.
In 2007 when All decided to start his own company, he created a Wes Anderson-style YouTube video titled “Republicans YouTube It Better.” Standing in front of the Capitol, All exhorted Republicans to join the Web 2.0 era: “I hope you get on YouTube sooner rather than later, so that we can start winning back the majority.” Four days later, it appeared on CNN’s Situation Room. “All I did was a video, but it was the message. I was right, and I still am.”
Political consultants are struggling to figure out how the model has changed, says All. “They think that YouTube is just a 3.5″ x 4″ TV screen, and it’s not. It’s a community; it’s a very real community.” Ideas about websites need to change, too, says All. “Why don’t people start thinking about their website as a utility instead of just a place to force a message down someone’s throat?”
To All, it’s not good enough to use the tactics of the past. “It’s a modern world, and I think it’s time we start acting like it and embracing it.”
-Nicole Trafton is a reporter for Doublethink. More of Michael Ronquillo’s photographs can be found here.