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Greg Abbott Internship Final Paper

Joshua Parker Stegall

In December 2016 when I applied to be an intern with Texans for Greg Abbott through

the Republican Leadership Initiative, I truly had no idea what to expect. I didnt know, generally

or specifically, what sorts of things I would be doing in the campaign. Going into the internship

with a blank slate was honestly very beneficial, for by coming in without any preconceived

notions, I was able to be immersed fully in the campaign and absorb the knowledge without

filtering it through what I thought it would, could, or should be. Being an intern with Texans

for Greg Abbott has been a tremendous honor and an incredibly valuable learning experience.

Through the Spring of 2017, I learned many things that I didnt even know that I didnt know (so

to speak), I met and networked with some fantastic people, and I was involved in learning that

was tremendously genuine, hands-on, and real. I would whole-heartedly encourage any college

political science student to apply for the internship. I genuinely believe that at the conclusion of

my education, I will look back on the time I spent as an RLI fellow with Texans for Greg Abbott

with pride.

The modern campaign is all about what is called Ground-Game. The Obama

Snowflake model (which was described at length in the internships required reading,

Groundbreakers) is built around direct personal contact and relies heavily upon community

engagement. Through my internship, Ive had many experiences with block-walking, phone-

banking, and team-building, all of which are means to an end of bolstering the campaign at the

grassroots level.
Blockwalking is essentially knocking on doors. Blockwalks can serve various purposes

such as to recruit, to collect data, or to distribute campaign literature. In a blockwalk, prior

preparations must be taken to ensure a successful event. One must map out routes effectively and

choose scripts and surveys carefully. Additionally, one must recruit volunteers, for blockwalking

is not something that can be done by one person. This presents certain challenges, for

blockwalking (particularly in the stifling Texas heat) can be physically demanding. Therefore, it

is necessary to be careful about how you chose the blockwalk participants. Block walking also

requires a certain level of professionalism on the part of the Blockwalker. A blockwalker must

dress appropriately, maintain good posture, deliver engaging eye contact, hold the clipboard in

an appropriate manner, and avoid disfluencies in the vocal delivery such as umm, well, and

like. And above all else, blockwalkers must do the above in a way that seems natural and not

forced or theatrical.

Phonebanking, which is another strategy fellows utilized over the course of the semester,

is very similar to Blockwalking in its aims (which are, generally speaking, the same), but pose

different challenges. Many of the same requirements of an effective blockwalk are needed for a

successful phonebank, but elements like the physical demands, the dress, the posture, and the eye

contact are no longer an issue in phonebanking. The greatest challenge of phonebanking is the

sense of futility that can easily accompany it. Even if no one answers doors in a blockwalk, you

generally dont feel like youre spinning your wheels simply since youre going from place to

place and are always on the move. Phonebanking, on the other hand, can sometimes arouse

feelings of futility and frustration. Additionally, some people are uncomfortable staying in a

room indoors for an extended period of time. All of the above should be considered when a

phone bank is being planned and volunteers are being selected or recruited. It is important that
volunteers not be put into situations that give them negative feelings, and a positive experience

for volunteers (especially early in their time as a volunteer) should be sought after. Therefore, it

is of utmost importance for a RLI fellow or campaign staffer to consider whether a volunteer is

more apt to enjoy blockwalking or phonebanking and recruit accordingly.

An additional pillar of the grassroots revitalization is manifested in the Neighborhood

Team Model. This model, which involves a hierarchy of participants that includes the

Neighborhood Team Leader, Core Team Member, and Volunteers. RLI fellows were tasked with

building a team and the two most important tasks that went along with that were conducting one-

on-one meetings (introduction, maintenance, escalation, debrief, etc) and hosting house

meetings. These tools, the effective execution of which are crucial to the success or failure of the

program, required networking skills, public speaking, leadership, and generally required

participants to step outside of their comfort zones. These attributes are absolutely vital to a

campaign, and they will serve men and women well in any profession.

A significant challenge that the campaign faced in its grassroots efforts (blockwalking,

phonebanking, and team building) was the tendency for people to become defensive. Whether a

person receives a call on the phone or an unannounced visitor on their doorstep, It is very

common to treat them with hostility and push them out. It is easy for people to feel cornered or

perceive that their privacy is being invaded. This is, alas, inevitable and most likely unavoidable.

If a team spends an afternoon blockwalking and knocks on three hundred doors and recruits one

volunteer, then the afternoon was tremendously valuable for the campaign, even if the volunteers

may not be able to see that.

Seeing the environment that large-scale campaigns operate under and participating in it

has been a tremendously informative experience. Campaigns are very much results-oriented and
are Go! Go! Go! constantly (so to speak). The Abbott campaign, like any other firm in the real

world, operates under strict deadlines and firm accountability. Fellows were expected in no

uncertain terms to pull their weight. When we met with Brian Ruddle towards the end of the

campaign, we were given a glimpse of the campaign on the statewide level, and it is certainly

high stakes poker. At the level of campaign staff such as a Regional Field Director (which is the

title of my supervisor, Ms. Spencer), staff either meet their numbers or they lose their job. The

extremely minimal job security was eye opening for me, especially since Im mapping out my

future and trying to decide and commit to career paths.

Among the challenges the internship presented were the sense of futility that was easy to

fall into. As an intern, it was difficult if not impossible to see the Big Picture of the work I was

doing. For example, many weeks would revolve around an event such as a phonebank or

blockwalk, and if the event was relatively unsuccessful, then it would feel like the efforts of the

week were in vain. It took a long while to realize that just because a blockwalk or phonebank

didnt result in any new volunteers doesnt mean that that the event was unsuccessful. Although

it was sometimes easy to feel a bit like Sisyphus of Greek mythology, the mere act of being in

the field bolsters the reputation and perceptions of the Abbott campaign. Another frustration, and

perhaps the most frustrating set of circumstances related to the internship was the false pretenses

of potential hiring to occur at the completion of the program. At the beginning of the program,

we were all told that if we performed our duties well that we would be considered for a full time

position with the Abbott campaign starting in June that would still allow us to continue our

college education if we so chose. About three-quarters of the way through the program, we were

asked to fill out a New Hire Questionnaire. During the last week, however, we were told that

no one would be hired if they were still a student and that that had always been the policy. At
first I was slightly bitter at this, for I initially felt misled. I do, however, understand that in the

world of politics the name of the game is getting people to do what you need them to do, and

this is a powerful way to accomplish that.

Perhaps the most niche element of the RLI program was the use of advanced campaign

software such as Advantage16 and Red Dialer. This is an excellent example of a skill that

can really only be learned by doing it in a hands-on way. In fact, without the access to the

programs (that you can only be granted through involvement with the party), it is utterly

impossible to learn these skills. Knowing how to properly utilize these programs is a very

substantial notch on your belt as far as resumes go.

Working on the Abbott Campaign as an RLI Fellow has been an incredible learning

experience. The program was authentic, in-the-trenches, real political work. Prior to becoming an

intern for the Abbott campaign, all of my political science education had been theoretical, and I

honestly had no idea what real campaigns looked like or how they functioned. I always

thought, perhaps naively, that people vote for the candidate they agree with most and it was as

simple as that. I, however, know realize how incredibly important the actions of the campaigns

are to the results of the elections. The Abbott campaign has poured a tremendous amount of

money into building its grassroots infrastructure, and the vast majority of campaign staffers

and insiders would swear passionately that the grassroots involvement will be what determines

victory or defeat in American elections in the coming years.

When I pondered my expectations for the internship in the first essay, my biggest goal

was to become fully trained and ready to be hired on any campaign nationwide. I wanted to earn

school credit, boost my resume, and build my network. I can honestly say that this internship has

been a tremendous success in those regards. I am very thankful to have been a part of it, and I
most certainly am glad I took a chance and applied for the internship. Working in a real

campaign with a real staff and supervisor, especially one as encouraging, knowledgeable, and

passionate about the campaign as Ms. Spencer has been a great joy.