Departure of RNC's Top Web Strategist Worries Conservatives

  |  March 10, 2009   |  Comments

Cyber Strategist Cyrus Krohn resigned last week, to the dismay of many in the party.

Conservative technologists are sorry to see Cyrus Krohn resign as the cyber strategist for the Republican National Committee (RNC). In fact, several of them had formed a Facebook group, titled "Change Anything But Cyrus Krohn," dedicated to keeping him on after Michael Steele assumed leadership of the party in January. The group had 421 members as of yesterday.

"I think it's a loss because Cyrus is a technologist first, and typically the RNC hires people who are into politics first," said Erick Erickson, chairman of the influential conservative site RedState.com and one of administrators of the Facebook group. "Cyrus was very good at weeding out charlatans and poseurs who had shiny-looking technology that didn't really do anything."

Krohn announced his departure as e-Campaign director in a blog post on Thursday, wherein he cataloged the GOP's technological achievements during his tenure. A former publisher of Slate, Krohn left a position at Yahoo in 2007 to take the RNC spot, and he revamped the party's approach to online politics. He grew its e-mail list from less than 2 million to 12 million, started a Facebook group, and built a technology platform that now hosts 31 state Republican organizations in addition to the RNC. In the blog post, he said he plans to relocate his family to Seattle and to work for an as yet unspecified presidential candidate in 2012.

"Cyrus really brought people together, at a time when things weren't going so well," said Rob Bluey, director of online strategy at the Heritage Foundation and a contributor to RedState.com, as well as another administrator of the pro-Krohn Facebook group. "That's something that's going to be missed, and whoever they bring in is going to have to have that same mentality. Now is not the time for fighting."

There's no indication that Krohn left under duress, said Bluey, who thinks the move is part of the general shakeup that comes with a change of leadership. He's disappointed that Steele wasn't ready with a tech team of his own. "Obama had a chief of staff immediately, and we have to be operating with the same type of speed," he said.

Krohn's old job is now in the hands of Todd Van Etten, one of his deputies, whom Erickson describes as "very capable."

A sketchy request for proposals for a redesign of GOP.com, issued by the RNC on Friday on the heels of Krohn's announcement, struck observers as a half-hearted effort at best. "It was rather lame," Erickson said. "It looks like either they don't know what they're doing, or they already have a consultant in mind and are just going through the motions, in which case Michael Steele's promises of more transparency ring pretty hollow."

"This is thin gruel," said Justin Hart, a conservative political technology consultant and strategist who used to work for Mitt Romney and who's seen his share of RFPs for large Web projects. Hart is currently running the Web effort for California State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, an announced 2010 challenger to Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. "I'm puzzled by the timing."

A GOP tech summit held February 13 yielded plenty of ideas, Hart said, but the resulting reports are still being written.

The party's online efforts might be stymied by too much analysis."My great concern right now is that the RNC and the conservative movement are killing themselves with white papers," Erickson said. "A lot of these committees have the same people duplicating the same efforts, and no one's actually doing anything."

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