If you wanted to know whom Joe Biden was choosing to be his vice president, you had to be on his campaign's text-message list. For real, for once.
"I am not a member of any organized political party — I am a Democrat." Will Rogers said those words more than eight decades ago, and particularly after the fiasco of 2016, many on the left feared they remain painfully relevant today.
With the Biden campaign happy to let President Trump indict himself with his own words, and with the Democratic nominee-in-waiting visible mostly on Zoom, Democratic voters and activists have filled the vacuum with their own worries.
Then came Biden's announcement that California Sen. Kamala Harris would join him on the Democratic presidential ticket, which rolled out last week without a hitch. No one leaked — a novelty in presidential politics — meaning that reporters and pundits learned about his choice at the same time and in the same way as Biden supporters: via text message. As Democratic digital veteran Matt Compton tweeted, "Team Biden pulled off a true grassroots first-to-know text".
Grassroots Dems returned the favor with cash in large quantities: Biden-Harris raised $48 million in the first 48 hours, with the take falling just a few percent on the second day — a sign that donor enthusiasm was not fading overnight. Besides direct donations, the campaign channeled supporter enthusiasm into a wide array of campaign merchandise ready online for the rollout. Staff must have prepared variants for the different veep aspirants, not knowing who would be the final choice, just as they did with the new campaign logo.
Helping that cash influx happen? A Biden email fundraising operation described as a "juggernaut" by a former Harris digital staffer at last week's Netroots Nation conference. I received eight messages from the campaign, plus others from the DNC, in just the first 36 hours after the Harris announcement. Only the staff knows how many variants they wrote that first day and night, but we can assume that I received a selection, not the full array. To put the results in context, Biden's team announced a $280 million ad plan earlier in August, and last week's two-day take would cover close to 20 percent of it. With Democrats so eager to open their wallets to defeat Donald Trump, how wide will Biden-Harris be able to open the electoral map?
I also heard from Trump-Pence about Biden's veep decision via emails with subject lines such as "Kamala is HORRIBLE.” Subtle.
More insidiously, Trump tried to replay the "birther" attacks against Harris that he long leveled at Barack Obama, once again trying to sow doubt about a Democrat's legitimacy. Online attacks also surged after the Harris announcement, but this year they may not go unanswered, since Democrats seem to be taking the meme wars seriously. For example, a former Beto O'Rourke staffer mentioned at Netroots that the DNC monitored disinformation efforts against all of the Democratic presidential primary campaigns this election cycle and worked with them to respond.
Part of that pushback involves volunteers, and Biden's campaign has already teamed up with what CNN described as an "army of 11,000 volunteer digital organizers who share content across social media platforms like Instagram, TikTok, Facebook and Pinterest created by both the campaign and volunteer content creators." One of the lead organizers? Misha Leybovich, a founder of the "Warren Meme Team" I mentioned back in April in that piece on supporter-generated campaign content. With Harris on the ticket, they'll be joined by the members of her own enthusiastic #KHive, a legion of digital volunteers who've most recently been working to elevate her profile as a potential VP.
Of course, one successful rollout doesn’t a victorious campaign make. But after his shaky performance through much of the primary season, last week’s smooth sailing should help reassure Democrats that Biden is finally running a tight ship. This week, the Democratic convention offers a second chance to demonstrate leadership and basic competence to a country unsettled by a pandemic and convinced that we're on the wrong track as a nation. If the Biden-Harris rollout is any indication, Democratic activists may not be the only people feeling better about our future soon.
Colin Delany is founder and editor of the award-winning website Epolitics.com, author of the new 2020 edition of “How to Use the Internet to Change the World – and Win Elections,” a twenty-four-year veteran of online politics and a perpetual skeptic. See something interesting? Send him a pitch at email@example.com.