By Ken Feltman
Volunteers are like zoo animals: Without regular care and feeding, they are soon growling and roaring.
Just about this time in 1996, the Republican faithful – the folks who knock on doors for the party’s presidential candidates and staff the volunteer headquarters – started to become disillusioned. Their candidate for president – World War II hero Bob Dole, long-time leader of the Senate Republicans – continued to talk in the jargon of the Senate. Late-night comics ridiculed him.
Rank-and-file voters were not impressed and, little by little, the faithful GOP workers seemed to give up on Dole ever getting his act together. It seemed that a discredited Democrat in the White House was not all that was needed to get a Republican elected. The Republican candidate had to energize the voters.
The complaints came in from the faithful: They could not get car-tops, yard signs or literature from the Dole campaign. Dole buttons were few and far between. State and local party headquarters ran out. The volunteers were starved for the political give-aways that they thrive on.
Nationally connected Republican leaders, pollsters and consultants disputed the polls showing Dole slipping behind President Clinton. They challenged the sampling techniques of those polls showing Clinton pulling away. They had charts, graphs and other arguments for a close election.
Dole and his key staff grew tired of being asked, ”what’s wrong?” They became testy.
In 2008, GOP workers in thousands of precincts complained that they could not get the campaign materials that they needed to compete with the well stocked Obama volunteers. They whispered that their candidate was not up to the eloquence of Obama. Their pollsters and consultants challenged TV and newspaper polls that showed Obama lengthening his lead. Senator John McCain, always a bit annoyed at questions, became testy. So did some campaign staffers. Rumored infighting was soon confirmed.
Today, GOP volunteers in many part of the country are crying out for signs and literature. The Romney people promise them “soon.” GOP pollsters, pundits and consultants are disputing the polls, led by Dick Morris.
And the campaign’s key people – but not the candidate this time – are getting testy. Mrs. Romney told off the GOP faithful in an especially unfortunate and stressful moment: “Stop it. This is hard.” Yes, it is hard. But your husband was not recruited. No one twisted his arm. He wanted to run. He put himself forward and now he has the nomination. This is not the time to complain about the folks who are volunteering their time and energy. This is the time to tend to the care and feeding of the volunteers.
Otherwise, you have an unruly zoo.