Last week we sat down with the political arena’s youngest campaign manager, Michael DeSantis. We originally reached out to Michael for ideas on our own post election ad products, but during our chat we were impressed by his depth of knowledge in the area despite his age and requested a full interview.
Recently graduated from High School, Michael has already worked on several campaigns and is now in charge of the Congressional campaign for J.J. Summerell in NC’s 1st district.
Michael’s goals are to develop his business and political acumen until he is able to move into Venture Capitalism and eventually run for office. Ultimately, he aims to be one of the Presidential Candidates of 2036.
ConstiuAds: Why Political? Why now?
Michael DeSantis: I would listen to discussions at school and found that I really enjoyed the idea of it. At an early age, I decided to go volunteer for a campaign. I loved the experience and have been at it since.
What are the challenges of being the youngest campaign manager in your space?
The biggest challenge I’ve had as a campaign manager is getting people to work for me. I have to be overly professional in general. I have to bring my “A Game” every single day. This was especially challenging in the beginning, but now I have people who vouch for my expertise, which helps.
Also, not a lot of people want to work for a congressional campaign, and once they see me in person and see how young I am they think, “I don’t want to work with someone younger than me…”. It ads an extra challenge to recruiting volunteers.
What are the advantages of your age?
Many older people love seeing a young person interested in politics. It opens a lot of doors that others may not be able to get into. Older campaign managers see my age as a benefit and give me advice they probably wouldn’t give another campaign manager.
How do you balance your own approach between younger and older voters?
We definitely run a bit of an old school, new school campaign. There is a generational divide that is present. You can see that divide in who people are choosing, and we want to work to bring that together, because we’re all just trying to make a better America.
With younger people we are idealistic and work that angle. They are more motivated by vision and ideas.
With older people its more a matter of conventional wisdom and sharing how the policies will affect them directly.
In either case, it has to be a matter of listening to the actual people’s problems and coming up with real ways to resolve them.
What are the top 3 ways you see political campaigning evolving? Why?
Fundraising is very important and money is evolving. How money is raised is evolving. People are using digital, Facebook Live, Periscope and other new ways to talk to voters beyond the traditional rallies, town halls, etc.
I think the bottom up aspect of grassroots is very important too. You have to have a ground team meeting with people directly. You have to understand your district and create a campaign that reflects their needs.
Campaigning as a whole has gotten much more competitive, which helps keep the candidates honest. This is a very good thing.
I think canvasing will go on forever. Websites and digital presences will evolve even more. We may even see some form of digital canvasing.
Everything needs to be innovative, everything needs to become more efficient.
How do you see digital advertising impacting political currently? How do you see digital shaping political in the future?
You definitely get to see a much broader audience and touch every single voter. Maybe not the Amish, but every one else. Whether on a website or social media, it’s much easier to interact.
With Direct Mail and phone calls, you’re losing a LOT of voters. Especially with Direct Mail, I think most people are just throwing out all the junk so quickly that it matters less and less.
Digital is also cheaper and you get to hit more voters. There is almost never a negative to Digital Advertising. You could argue click through rates, but compare that to Direct Mail or TV… there is nothing to click on.
The biggest advantage is that it’s advertising in a place where they can interact with you. They can go to your website, view your content, sign up for your email or donate.
What are three things you think won’t survive coming cycles?
- Direct Mail. I don’t see that going anywhere.
- Phone calls, especially landlines.
- Print is definitely dying too. Even billboards are dying.
Once any market gets too saturated, people go numb.
How important is email currently? Do you see this changing?
I think it’s important for the supporters you already have. I think it’s a good way to keep them informed on what’s happening with the campaign. It’s also the easiest way to get donations. You don’t have to call every person, you just send one blast and that’s it.
I think it could get competition from other forms of direct contact. I also don’t think SMS is used as well as it could be, so that could be something that affects email in the future.
If you had the budget and time you need, how would you structure the perfect campaign?
I would have a lot more staff going to each sub group of the district for better representation of each area. We’d spend a lot of time asking what needs to be solved and what those problems are.
Identity Politics is around and won’t disappear. It’s not just a matter of our identity, but getting to know the people and what their problems are and working with them to figure out solutions.
Hopefully in the future it’s more about solving actual problems and not just who is right or wrong.
I would use the money to do more special events, but it’s also important to spend time on the phone or on the computer. You want them interacting with you directly.
What are three things you think campaign managers should spend more time on?
They should probably thank their volunteers more often. They have no obligation to be there. Giving them a voice is also important. Ideally they’d love to be paid, but for a lot of them, if they have some kind of voice or influence in the campaign, that is very important and makes a difference.
And fundraising too… There can never be enough time spent there.
Lastly, probably interacting with voters more. It’s all about representing the people, so spending the time understanding the hardships that the people have been through. Getting to know the voice of the people. It’s especially important since the campaign manager aren’t always from that district, so they can often be in the dark.
Oddly, the campaign managers are not very connected to the people. They need to be the best representative of the candidate, but also of the people.
As a Presidential nominee in 2036, what would you look for in your own campaign manager?
I want my campaign manager to be whoever my Chief of Staff is. They’ve known me the longest, they know what I want and will be very similar to my ideas. The role needs to be someone who can network well.
They also need to be able to fundraise. I hate fundraising, so if they are able to do it, that would be amazing. I know it’s pretty ironic to say I hate fundraising when my biggest passions are politics and venture capitalism and fund raising is big for both of those things, but it’s true.
How do you hope to affect the political arena? What changes are you seeking?
I would really like to see things become more Independent.
Republicans and Democrats are both ideologies. I’d love to see more independent thinking; people who just care about the end goal of solving the problems for their district and their people. Not people going to congress to make deals with people unrelated to their own district, but people who actually care about who they represent.
On the presidential level, it would be the same. I want a president who sees a problem and doesn’t immediately go to their own idealoogy, but takes a look at every different way and then finds the best way to solve that specific problem.
We need to remember, we’re just here to solve the problems. I’m really tired of identity politics. Better representation and hopefully eliminating identity politics is what I’m after.
It’s about actually solving the problems that come from your district. Every election, everyone talks about the same issues every time; Economy, National Security, Energy Independence, etc. but you never actually see any of it solved. If you actually solved it, then what would you talk about the next election?
I guess our founding fathers really wanted it to be this way, in the sense that they wanted everything to be gradual. A slow evolution. I’m not sure if that’s something we should change, but it is something we should look into.
Whats your plan for the last 80 days?
We’ve got a big endorsement event mid September that will be our big announcement. It’ll be our main media push.
Then it’ll be physically going out and meeting with people. We’re already getting our grassroots established by having members go to various groups that represent the people.
Then we’ll reach out on social and digital to promote various events and meet ups. Hopefully they’ll interact with us more on our website.
I’d also like to have some kind of contest for early voters. Seeing what we can motivate people to do. It’ll give us some sort of idea of where we stand early on.
I think less that 5% of the people at this point have decided on their congressional candidates, so we still have plenty of time.
My philosophy with everything is definitely a matter of building the campaign around what the voters want and attracting them because you truly represent their needs. I think people are a lot more educated now.
If I can plug anything I’d like to plug my website, http://michaeldesantis.com ; )
For more information on Michael DeSantis or his campaign for JJ Summerell for NC’s 1st go to:
Michael’s Website: http://michaeldesantis.com
JJ Summerell’s Website: http://www.jj4nc.org/