What the GOP could learn from Steve Jobs

Cody Brown Iowa Campaign Manager, Rick Santorum for President
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Apple was 90 days from bankruptcy when Steve Jobs returned as CEO in 1997. The Apple brand was in trouble, like the current Republican brand. But Jobs took a remarkably different approach to rebuilding Apple than the RNC is taking to rebuilding the GOP, as evidenced by the RNC’s Growth and Opportunity Project blueprint released this week.

Jobs focused on core values and tied them to the brand

Jobs began rebuilding Apple not by focusing on products, suppliers, or market shares, but by asking a simple question: “Who is Apple and what do we stand for?”

In other words, he refocused Apple on its core values. He understood that values determine culture and culture determines success.

“We believe that people with passion can change the world for the better,” he told employees. “And those people crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that actually do.”

This was the essence of Apple and vintage Steve Jobs. He acknowledged that things had changed over time, but he reminded employees with conviction that “values and core values — those things shouldn’t change.”

Jobs tied these values directly to the Apple brand when the company launched its “Think Different” campaign, one of the most inspirational advertising campaigns in history.

But the RNC has done the opposite.

Instead of refocusing and inspiring the party faithful around our core values, the RNC has codified its intentions of changing them under the auspices of “modernization,” sucking full-throat the strategic deceptions of the left.

“It is a well-calculated maneuver to destroy, rather than to construct, an intelligent and meaningful opposition,” William F. Buckley, Jr. warned.

The blueprint chapter purportedly designed to fix the Republican brand demonstrates the very problem the RNC is trying to solve — the GOP does not yet know how to win hearts and minds. It proclaims our policies are “stale” and that we must move beyond Ronald Reagan.

Jobs simplified and focused his company

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the company was a mess. Apple was selling a confusing range of products, over 20 ad agencies were competing for its business, and Jobs didn’t trust his own board of directors.

To rebuild Apple and build truly great products, Jobs simplified operations and focused on doing a few things incredibly well.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do,” Jobs said.

He laid off 30 percent of the company, simplified product lines, hired one trusted ad agency, and fired his own board of directors.

But the RNC has done the opposite.

It has proposed an array of new programs, people, processes, and organizations without first answering fundamental questions.

What do we stand for?

What exactly are the objectives, functions, and priorities of the national, state, and local party organizations?

How will the RNC afford and execute these programs if it cannot afford to fund a basic voter registration program?

Is there anything the RNC should not be doing?

Jobs differentiated his company by being better

Steve Jobs thought differently and infused Apple with a creative culture.

While he adopted Picasso’s maxim as his own (“good artists copy, great artists steal”), he did not create the same products or enter the same markets as his competitors — he wanted to be better. In fact, Apple’s business model has been to build incredible products for largely new markets.

One reason Apple has succeeded with this model is that Jobs rejected the conventional wisdom of an “open” or “fragmented” system in favor of a “closed” or “integrated” system. Because Apple built both the hardware and the software it used, it could create certain products that other companies struggled to produce, which ultimately became a pillar of Apple’s corporate strength and a key to its success.

But the RNC has done the opposite.

Instead of creating new markets or increasing sales in existing markets (educating churches that have been deceived and/or bribed by the government to abstain from influencing public policy in exchange for tax breaks would be a good start), the RNC has decided to target its resources at what amounts to the GOP’s most difficult market — the existing Democratic base, even celebrities!

An enterprising RNC staffer could have studied the 2012 results more closely and discovered, among other things, that millions of conservatives did not even turn out to vote for the Republican nominee.

A wise candidate once asked, “If members of your own party don’t like you, why should anyone else?”

Yes, the GOP must identify new coalitions, but perhaps instead of creating massive new programs designed to persuade Democrats, the RNC would be wise to first figure out how to persuade conservative Republicans.

Jobs extended an olive branch to a rival partner

Apple and Microsoft were locked in litigation when Steve Jobs returned to Apple. Although Apple had the leg up in the litigation, Jobs knew Apple might not last long enough to reap the rewards. So Jobs extended an olive branch to Bill Gates and offered to settle the lawsuit as part of a new partnership. Patent disputes were resolved and Microsoft would invest in Apple and continue to publish software for the Mac. Jobs even invited Gates to appear at MacWorld Boston.

“Microsoft is going to be part of the game with us as we restore this company back to health, [and it will] have a vested interest in that stock price going up,” Jobs explained. “We have to let go of this notion that for Apple to win, Microsoft has to lose.”

The Apple faithful were reticent, but Jobs ultimately persuaded them and saved Apple in the process.

But the RNC has done the opposite.

The RNC blueprint is perceived as at best an insult to conservative voters, and at worst a formalization of an existing declaration of war inside the GOP. Either way, the RNC has further alienated and hardened a potential strategic partner, a lose-lose proposition for the establishment and the movement, further emboldening Democrats in the run-up to the 2014 midterm elections.

Jobs appreciated the people who were key to Apple’s success

Steve Jobs knew that rebuilding Apple meant investing in the people who had helped make Apple great — software developers. Even before he returned to Apple full-time, he was targeting his message to these developers.

“We’ve got to get the spark back with the developers,” Jobs said. “They bring us creative insight, market knowledge, and entrepreneurial energy.”

As one reporter summarized, “Jobs has pulled the right strings, stroking and petting the Mac developers and their collective consciousness. His message is simple and populist: If Apple’s future were left to the developers, it would exceed everyone’s wildest dreams.”

But the RNC has done the opposite.

The RNC blueprint has demoralized conservative activists, the very people who gave Speaker Boehner the House of Representatives. They now sit at home, disgruntled and disillusioned, because their party leadership has traded their values for the sake of expediency.

In the end, the strategy Jobs employed inspired employees, reassured shareholders, and created the most valuable company in the world.

The RNC’s blueprint, on the other hand, has demoralized the very organization it is seeking to rebuild and picked a fresh fight with the conservative movement.

But conservatives should take heart. As a man once said, “For the loser now will be later to win. For the times they are a-changin’.”

Cody M. Brown served as campaign manager for Rick Santorum’s victory in the 2012 Iowa caucuses.