Who will be the next Ken Mehlman?

Here’s a post to start a little bit of debate and to get you all thinking about the future of the party… 2012 and beyond.

It’s August and this is Iowa. For the past week or so… politically, my brain has been in strategery over drive. It’s almost the 11th anniversary of the 1999 Ames Straw Poll. We’re gearing up for “the real general election.” It looks to be a good Republican year. I ‘ve been reading Karl Rove’s book. The “I might be a 2012 candidate” types are coming to the cornfields. Silently, these camps are forming. Lately, I’ve been hanging out and exchanging long phone calls/texts with my ole Bush pals. Then Politico had a great article on the “Top Gets for 2012.” Smooshing all of that together in my head… I came up with this question… Who is going to be the next Ken Mehlman?

THE MEHLMANIAN ERA – I think we are nearing the end this era as it comes to political operations in our party. Naturally, because of change and those who have been in this system are beginning to move on to consulting or the private sector. But like the many greats before Ken, he has left his impact. It’s safe to say that from here on out all campaigns (if they plan to be successful) will have many Mehlmanian aspects to them

What makes a campaign, Mehlmanian?

Working your ass off. Commitment to grassroots politics. Steely eyed focused targeting. Setting goals and measuring results. Comraderie and loyalty. A sense of service to the party and the candidates we work for. Oh… and having a lot of fun doing all of the above. As a former colleague put to me the other day, the Mehlman model is simply setting streamlined goals and keeping a microscopic eye on results. This wasn’t really a new idea in campaigns. But Ken and his crew took this to high level of demanding results for every single aspect of the campaign. Getting a campaign to stop doing things, just for doing them.

A good example was with some of the Coalitions efforts. In the past chairs and leaders were recruited for every coalition. Farmers and Ranchers, Sportsmen, Veterans… give ‘em titles and put out a release. But now, everyone in the organization had goals with specific action items that could be tracked with simple Microsoft Excel sheet formulas. Now, you were not only getting more out of the work you did, but you could see what was happening in a tangible way so the tweaks could be make to the program along the way... thus being more successful.

THE START OF THE NEW STANDARD - This era began in 1999 when Ken made it to Iowa as Regional Political Director for Bush for President. He basically moved here and definitely earned his honorary Iowan status. From the Team Leader Program… to targeted lists... and many successes. Ken became the standard. I got a front seat to watch, work and observe the beginning of an era that changed the game for political operatives - forever. He took a team with now many familiar names, Sara Taylor and Scott Stanzel just to start, and then the development off this era began.

The Bush Team Leader program, phone banks with specific targets and of course the first set of spreadsheets to measure our results… it was building. We won in Iowa and the first group of Mehlmanites swarmed the other primary states. All practicing the things we built in Iowa, at Ken’s direction, the program and the definition of a Mehlmanian Campaign was being written. George W. Bush became President of the United States and Mehlman would now bring this model to the RNC. The Mehlmanian style would be spread to every single state and produce historic results.

WHY KEN WAS SUCCESSFUL – If we are going to figure out who the next Mehlman is… let’s explain why he was so successful and why we need to find the next one. Ken is a leader, in all aspects. Here’s the “this goes without saying” part. Dude is brilliant. Always thinking. Working hard, but working smart. But, in my opinion, the thing that made him successful was his ability to connect with anyone he came in contact with. This is what makes him great. From a Bush Farm Chair in Worth County, to the high rolling donor, to young green staffers (like I was) and inspiring entire staffs across the country. Ken just connected and was genuine doing so. Every time I see him he still asks, “Hey, how’s A-Money doing?” In reference to how’s my brother is doing.

He could read what motivated you and stepped back to let you achieve your goals... So long as you turned in your spreadsheets on time :). If you worked under Ken, you were lucky to hear and receive a Mehlman Pep Talk. And I’m telling ya guys, if you weren’t fired up to run through concrete walls after you heard it, your pilot light was out.

He is just one of those leaders like great football coaches. By Ken being Ken, he got the absolute most out of every single player.

THE MEHLMAN COACHING TREE – Like in the NFL, the Greats always have disciples and great success stories from the people surrounded by them. This is Mehlman Legacy. His coaching tree spreads all over the Country. Many have moved on to big things and successful campaigns. Like I said before, most are now getting to the consulting side of the game. This is why I believe we’re near the end of the Mehlmanian Era. His legacy will always be the standard and still impact every single day of any campaign. But with a new cycle on the horizon I believe a new era is about to unfold.

GEARING UP FOR 2012 – As I said, this is Iowa. Or as I refer to it, “The Hollywood of Politics.” This is where political operatives and the next “greats” get discovered. Sorry New Hampshire but it's true. From loyal sons and daughters of the Hawkeye State… to bright eyed, eager out of staters… this is where you go to cut your teeth and be discovered. Case in point? See the current Obama administration and the Bush 43 White House. At one point the Bush White House Political Department back in 2001 looked like our office out in Clive in ’99. “So what does this mean, G$?” Hang on, I’m getting to it.

Politico’s article on the “Best Gets for 2012” epitomizes the whole idea that this cycle has already begun. Others have been swooped up already for “Leadership PACs”. I know a lot of the listed in the “Best Gets.” Some very well, some just by conference calls or trainings along the way. Are these people the next Ken Mehlman? No. Now, before you send me your hate mail. I’m not knocking these people. They are the best. Smart. Uber-accomplished. Many have stemmed from the Mehlman Coaching Tree. All have their niches, strengths and talents that most wish they had a fifth of.

These folks have built reputations and legends of their own. They will all be leading different camps. And one of these people will lead the campaign to the general. But they won’t be able to leave an impact the size that Ken did. Why? These people already have their shticks. They are already trading on their own names. In one of these 2012 campaigns, there will be a person who will be the day-to-day cog that leads all to victory. The next Mehlman. “So G$, if these kids aren’t the next Ken, who is it?”

THE NEXT MEHLMAN – My answer? We haven’t even heard of he or she’s name yet. My prediction is that he or she will come up in a similar way that Ken did. Leaving a post from some Congressional office. Jumping on a campaign… moving to Iowa… moving up from a Regional Political Director of a young campaign… to becoming the Chairman of the RNC. Will it be the same path for the future Mehlman? Of course not. But this is recipe of the next grassroots political legend that is to come.

This person will take the lessons learn from the Mehlmanian Era and combine them with what we learned from the 2008 Obama campaign. The next Mehlman will have this ability to utilize the ever changing technologies with good ole fashioned grassroots neighbor-to-neighbor politics. And when this happens, hold on to your hats kids.

If we are to be successful as a party in this decade we should, and I hope candidates have an eye open, for the next Ken Mehlman. While no one is ever the same as the greats, this person will be the great on their own name… and when that happens… we’ll start a new era of success.

Anyone have ideas on who it will be? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments and as always… stay thirsty my friends.