Updated with full transcript.
On the night of the South Carolina primary, as Newt Gingrich was giving his victory speech at a downtown hotel in the state’s capital city, Columbia, Rick Tyler walked into the lobby of the hotel in which I was staying. It’s not a fancy hotel so I was a bit surprised.
Tyler heads the Gingrich-supporting Super PAC, Winning Our Future.
As Tyler walked past I said loudly that I had just watched him on MSNBC discussing Gingrich’s surprising win. He stopped and came over. I introduced myself and we talked for a few minutes. He was heading up to his room to get his bags en route to leaving for Florida, the next state in the primary race.
I asked if he would do an interview. He agreed. He said some interesting and surprising things.
That evening with the help of UW Election Eye colleagues Alex Stonehill and Anita Verna Crofts, we posted a video of a short portion of that interview here. But there was much more than those 5 minutes, and below is the audio of the full interview. The full transcript will be posted tomorrow.
Tyler’s words are particularly meaningful at this exact moment.
Presidential Super PACs are organizations that support specific political candidates and run advertising in support of them or against opponents, but are legally bound to not communicate with the candidates or their campaigns. What makes Super PACs so important, in the words of opensecrets.com, is that they “may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.”
Today, for example, Newt Gingrich’s super PAC received a $5 million commitment from one person. This is the second $5 million commitment from the same married couple in the last three weeks for Gingrich’s super PAC, Winning Our Future. Tyler decides how this money is used.
In Iowa, Mitt Romney’s Super PAC — known as Restore Our Future — spent $3.4 million, most of it in negative ads targeting Gingrich, while Winning Our Future spent $700,000. This was a 5-to-1 margin on Romney’s behalf; Romney nearly won the Iowa caucuses, while Gingrich finished a distant fourth. Romney then coasted to victory in New Hampshire, with Gingrich finishing fifth.
But in South Carolina, Winning Our Future had the money to create and promote a 28-minute documentary-style film critical of Romney’s work at Bain Capital. The two candidates’ super PACs were nearly even in dollars spent in the Palmetto State.
With this as a backdrop, coupled with some defining debate performances for Gingrich (effective) and Romney (stumbling), Gingrich rallied for a 12-point defeat of Romney in South Carolina. The new infusion of money may allow the Gingrich campaign to run even with Romney’s super PAC in Florida.
Super PACs have super impact, bottom line.
David Domke: So Rick, could you just tell me who you are and what you’ve done in this campaign so far?
Rick Tyler: Rick Tyler, senior advisor to Winning Our Future super PAC. We started really in earnest here, in South Carolina, last Wednesday. And hopefully we were helpful in turning around a 15 point deficit into what’s going to amount to be maybe a 10 plus point win. I’m not sure of the last numbers. We weren’t ready in Iowa. We weren’t organized in Iowa. New Hampshire, we didn’t compete. Here, in South Carolina, we competed in earnest and hopefully we played some small part in turning it around.
David Domke: So you guys made the decision in this campaign to support and release the “King of Bain” documentary. Can you tell me a little bit about that decision and what you think the implications have been?
Rick Tyler: Well, it was a real risk. Because we knew that there would be, you know, people who would try to claim that it was an attack on capitalism. It certainly wasn’t that. It was a story that ran counter to Mitt Romney’s claim that he was a job creator. And that was our central argument. The argument was that he said he created all these jobs and the movie illustrates that he didn’t. Now, what he did at Bain Capital is part of the capitalistic system, but it certainly wasn’t creating jobs. That was our central argument. That, by the way, shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s followed Mitt Romney’s career. I mean, he’s claimed to be pro-life, pro-family. He’s claimed to be for small businesses, claimed to defend the Second Amendment rights and none of these things were true as governor either, so I’m not sure why they got so upset about the jobs claim.
Domke: In terms of the critique that you’ve been leveling at Bain, is this something you intend to push in Florida?
Tyler: We’ll see. I mean there was a case today that we know about this company called Daman which Mitt Romney was involved in. They’re in the healthcare field. Turns out when he was on the board of Daman, which he invested in Bain and then Mitt Romney advocated—the Boston Globe reported—they advocated investing in Daman. And Daman defrauded –they filed fraudulent Medicare claims for $25 million. They were fined $119 million which, at the time, may still be the largest criminal fine ever in Massachusetts history. He was on the board of that company. So you know, people need to know that. That company ultimately went bankrupt, paid thousands of people again lost their jobs, and yet Bain made $12 million on the deal.
Domke: So we met a gentlemen here, while we were in South Carolina, whose father had been at Georgetown steel mill, lost his position there. The pushback from the establishment and from Mitt Romney has been that you are criticizing not his work, but capitalism generally and that you are anti-free enterprise. This was a clear emphasis in Mitt Romney’s speech tonight, that the Republican Party cannot nominate somebody who is anti-free enterprise.
Tyler: That wasn’t our argument, though. I mean, our argument was – you have in free enterprise, they like to point out, (unintelligible) of creative destruction, which is correct. What that means is—when Henry Ford invents the assembly line to create the automobile, that the horse and buggy are going to go the way of the horse and buggy. You know, Apple computers and laptop computers made Smith Corona obsolete. And so these companies become obsolete and they die. Or they compete, some do and some don’t, and that’s certainly a valid theory and that is part of the capitalist system. But Mitt Romney’s claim was different than that. Bain Capital wasn’t organized to create jobs. It was organized to create return for investors and he certainly did that. His record is he’s returned a profit of 92 percent of his deals, but he had a third of his companies go out of business. I understand that in business, you know, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But at Bain, sometimes you win and sometimes you win. The thing was, with GSI Steel in particular, they went into that company—and maybe somebody can make the argument that the company was obsolete and needed to be dismantled—but he went in and loaded the company with debt. It was $531 million in debt. The pension fund got shorted $44 million. The federal tax payer paid, made up that $44 million dollars. So, the taxpayers paid off the pensions that they left short. Yet, Bain made $17 million on that deal. Now, that’s legal. But, you know, sometimes what you can do doesn’t mean you have to do it. What I find interesting is that, you know, we all talk about Adam Smith and Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations and that’s a tremendous book and our capitalist system is very much rooted in the ideas of Adam Smith and The Wealth of Nations. But before he wrote The Wealth of Nations, he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiments, because Adam Smith was actually a theologian and not an economist. And his point is that freedom and markets and democracies can only exist within the framework of –a context of—a moral people. With an immoral people, who don’t understand that you have to do the right thing even when no one is looking. Even though you can do it, you don’t have to do it, because otherwise greed and governments will consume a free people and enslave them. That was Adam Smith’s theory. So I think, if we’re going to look at Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, let’s also look at Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. That’s not a leftist argument. That’s Adam Smith.
Domke: So why is Romney coming out there with the case that it’s a leftist argument?
Tyler: Because he has nothing else to come on. I mean, he thought it was very successful to have a lot of people who fell for this argument that we had some argument with capitalism. I’m a capitalist. I believe in capitalism. My father is a small business man. When Newt was Speaker, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 130 percent and NASDEC rose 186 percent. Eleven million jobs were created. We had welfare reform; we cut debt by $405 billion. That’s a pretty good record for capitalists.
Domke: Do you think that this line of argument—last question on this and then I’ll go down a different road—do you think this line of argument can play well across the Republican establishment? Because it doesn’t seem to me like it can.
Tyler: Well, it didn’t work here. I mean, people saw through it. Ultimately, people didn’t believe we were attacking establishment itself, or, I’m sorry, didn’t think we were attacking capitalism itself. We were attacking the establishment and their candidate, Mitt Romney, and his record. That’s as plain and simple as it can get. Mitt Romney doesn’t want you to know two things. He doesn’t want you to know Newt Gingrich’s record and he doesn’t want you to know his own liberal record. So we were just pointing it out.
Domke: So let’s go back. You were the spokesperson for the Gingrich campaign, right? Until you took this position with the super PAC.
Tyler: For a short time, but I worked for Newt for over 12 years.
Domke: What drove your decision to go run this super PAC. Tell me, please, a little bit about your picture of the lay of the land in terms of super PACs and politics right now.
Tyler: Well, that’s not really how it happened. I actually left the campaign because I thought the campaign was over. (Laughs)
Domke: A few others did, too.
Tyler: Yeah and I had lost perspective. But knowing Newt as I had known him, I should have known that when an avalanche falls on you, you don’t assume that you’re gonna die. You just dig yourself out and you just keep climbing the mountain. That’s the story of Newt’s entire career. That’s certainly what happened–up until tonight. So I took the summer off, you know, and I worked on my house and I did my wife’s list for me that she’s had for me for 10 years. I redid our entire house in Iowa. I had a lot of time to think and a lot of time to rest and a lot of time to reflect. The more I kept watching this campaign, the more I saw these debates, actually, I thought, you know, I think there’s something here. Newt sort of emerged in the debates as Pavarotti among pop stars. I mean, he was really just remarkable. I’m not sure we’d be in the position we are today where you’ve got these two latest debates—just tremendous performances. It’s as good as it gets.
Domke: Why go work at the super PAC, though, instead of trying to get back onto the campaign?
Tyler: Well, there are rules about that. I mean, once you leave a campaign, you have to wait 120 days, which there was 120 days and now that I’m on the super PAC, which I made the decision to join the super PAC—I couldn’t go back to the campaign if I wanted to. I’d have to wait another 120 days and that’d be too much time lost. In a strange way—I mean, I don’t like super PACs. I don’t think they’re good for the American system of politics. I don’t think they’re worthy of a free people. I think we should return the decision making, the fundraising back to the candidates. Let them own the candidates, let them own their message. We now have a system where third parties have greater control over the candidates’ message then the candidates themselves. And that’s just wrong. The candidate puts their name, fortune and sacred honor on the ballot. So why do they have the least amount of ability to shape their own message? So, in a sense though, I’m uniquely positioned here—since these are the rules, be that as it may. I’ve known Newt for 12 years. I know how he thinks. I’m not as smart as he is, but I can dance with the campaign without coordinating with the campaign. I can watch what he’s doing and get the rhythm of it and understand what he’s trying to accomplish. And I know his messaging. I know how he sounds. I know what he says. So my job’s been to keep the super PAC focused and on message that will help him. And I think we’ve been fairly successful in that. Even though, we have taken some risks. But I felt that if we didn’t take the risk, I’m not sure we would have opened the window for him. In any campaign, the candidate is the single most important asset. That’s what you got and I think we opened the window, a small window for him to get out his message, and it’s been remarkable. Campaigns are about contrast and we hadn’t had a contrast until now.
Domke: Sheldon Adelson has been your primary supporter. Is that correct?
Domke: Lots of discussion tonight among the punditry and the news media about whether he’s going to swoop in with more and more millions now for Florida. Two hours after the decision here, in South Carolina, is he on your speed dial? Have you talked to him? What do you know?
Tyler: I don’t know yet. Too early to know. We’ll see what happens. It’s up to him.
Domke: If he doesn’t, where do you get your money?
Tyler: Well, I think there’s a lot of money, that’s sort of been waiting in the wings, to see who is going to emerge as the non-Mitt candidate and we’ve now established that Newt’s that candidate. In fact, I would argue that Newt is now the frontrunner even though he’s a little bit behind in the delegate count, but he’s certainly got the momentum. If you listen to all the pundits for the last week, you know, Mitt’s historic, he’s gonna—and oh, it’s a done deal, it’s gonna be over. And he had the unfortunate distinction of losing Iowa from South Carolina and then lost South Carolina, too. So he’s one for three, just like Newt.
Domke: Can a presidential candidate run today, without a super PAC?
Tyler: Well, I think that in a sense, in an odd way, the Mitt Romney super PAC spent $4.7 million here, in South Carolina. He spent about a million more dollars than we did. Plus, their campaign had much more money than Newt’s campaign and so, we were totally outspent here, yet we won a huge victory. So in a sense, it kind of says, maybe the system can’t be bought. Maybe people do see through all the money and all the advertising and so I’m actually encouraged. I’m encouraged because…
Domke: That seems contrary though, because you say they saw through it but you got the money to sink the dollars into this campaign, so you’re not thinking…
Tyler: On the one hand, I’m not sure we could have done what we did without the money. On the other hand, you know, Rick Santorum won Iowa because he lived there for a year and did it the old fashioned way and that’s why he won. And Mitt Romney grew up, I mean he’s from Massachusetts, but he has a house in New Hampshire and he’s been campaigning in New Hampshire for the last four years, straight. So in a sense, the old grassroots meeting candidates—and Newt Gingrich is from the neighborhood state of Georgia—so in a sense, it really is about meeting people and getting to know people and when people are comfortable with people, they vote for them. So I think that’s more important. Money is important, but that’s more important. In the end I would take a man with a message over a manager with money, any day.
Domke: So looking ahead here to Florida—Republican establishment heads are exploding tonight, fearful about Gingrich…
Tyler: A few media heads are exploding, too.
Domke: Few media heads tonight are exploding. When my students and I arrived here last weekend, Gingrich was down by 13 and wins by 15 or so, tonight. What does Newt Gingrich have to do, or what do you have to do, in the next ten days to convince people, the establishment, that he is not a mortal threat to the parties in the future?
Tyler: Well, we’ve kind of laid that groundwork already. We’ve laid the predicate of why Mitt Romney—I don’t know if you saw it, we had this, a clever ad –it was an animation of Mitt Romney debating Barack Obama—and it really did make the point that there is no distinction between them. There’s not enough contrast and that he would lose the debate with Barack Obama and people got that message. Remember, Mitt Romney has got little more than 25 percent of the Republican vote throughout the last year. Lots of candidates have gone up and down, up and down and yet Mitt Romney has stayed, sort of, flat lined at 25 percent and what that tells me is 75 percent of this party does not want to elect Mitt Romney. So my job is just to align Newt Gingrich with the 75 percent.
Domke: Last thing I want to talk about is technology.
Domke: Gingrich said in the debate the other night—well they were all asked one thing you could do different, what would you do? His answer was get rid of the consultants, which is I guess, you—
Tyler: Ha-ha, that’s right. He was right about that.
Domke: –and to run a social media campaign, right? I’m just wondering to what extent is technology affecting how you do your job as a consultant or run the super PAC.
Tyler: Well, I don’t want to give away too much of our strategy, but I will tell you that our strategy relies less on television and more on connecting with people through social media and that includes Facebook, Twitter, email, advertising online and targeting, getting through them through social media and then creating networks so they’re echoing the message themselves. In a way people are actually sort of running their own presidential campaigns just by who they talk to and who they’re affecting and who they’re putting in their circles. It’s been a dramatic shift since the last four years. It’s expanded exponentially. I don’t know how to measure it yet, but it’s much bigger than it was four years ago.
Domke: So the documentary, for example, didn’t run on television, right?
Domke: But it’s out there, is it on YouTube or where’s it at?
Tyler: A million people have seen it. I think it’s on YouTube, I’ll have to check where it’s housed. I think it’s on YouTube, but over a million people saw it in six days.
Domke: So how do you make that happen?
Tyler: You gotta create a buzz about it. And we did that, really, through our media. And it was new. And in a sense, all of the criticism about, you know, Mitt Romney, his talking point about, you know, this is an attack on capitalism created a buzz and that lasted a week and so people were like, well what’s this all about? And they went and they saw the movie. A million people did. So it really was earned media.
Domke: So the earned media creates the buzz, cable television, traditional news then bloggers pick it up, talk about it, right?
Tyler: Right, you give these guys stuff to fill their time with. Stuff they can use and like, so they talk about it.
Domke: So where does the social media come into this for you?
Tyler: Once they hear about it on the television, they’ll go and look it and they can tweet it right there and they can talk to their friends about it and they can put it on their Facebook page and then it just goes viral from there…So what you have, is this national conversation. That’s never happened before. Years ago you couldn’t imagine, if you were just a voter and you had an idea or you wanted to get a thought across to a presidential candidate—there was almost no way to do that. Today, you can just tweet it out or put it on a blog and because you mention the candidate’s name, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll read it. They may see it. I know Newt follows his own twitter. He’s got over 1.3 million people on Twitter. He reads the twitter and tweets himself. So he’s seeing what they’re saying, he’s in the conversation.
Domke: Yet, his supporters skew much older, right? The typical Gingrich supporter, they said in New Hampshire, was 60 years old or this kind of thing. So how does that square with the technological approach you’re talking about.
Tyler: It’s consistent with the voting trend. I mean older people do vote more than younger people. As much as we talk about getting young people to vote, unfortunately, they haven’t. But you know what’s interesting about Newt? I don’t know if you’ve heard, but he’s a college professor. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen him on a college campus.
Domke: No, I haven’t, but we’re well aware he’s a professor. He shares that.
Tyler: He connects with the students. He just loves—the thing that’s been interesting for me about Newt is he learns every single day. I mean he’s a voracious reader. He’s interested in things and ideas and he gets criticized, imagine this, criticized for being interested in ideas. And yet, he is so interesting and he connects with the kids and they just love him, you know. So he’s connecting on a level with this millennial generation which is a tremendous generation. They’re more like the greatest generation. They talk about, this generation, in my observation, they hardly ever say “I” or “me,” they’re always talking about “we, together, us.” They have a greater mission, a greater sense of purpose than just themselves. And it’s really encouraging to see. So I’m looking forward to this generation and its success, because I think they will be a great generation.
Domke: Alright, thanks a lot.