If the political campaigns of the future will be waged online, the Republican Party hopes to keep the fight on its turf with .gop domain names.
As soon as next week, the GOP hopes to roll out the first ever partisan top-level domain name. And, if all goes according to plan, candidates and activists will be operating from websites ending in .gop by the midterm elections in November.
“We know that this going to be a major factor in helping Republicans organize online,” said Will Martinez, vice president for sales and marketing with the Republican State Leadership Committee’s effort.
Partly, the movement hopes to counterbalance the vastly superior technology focus that President Obama’s reelection team had in the 2012 election. The Republican Party’s so-called autopsy report after that election repeatedly noted the importance of web strategy and new media outreach for modern politics.
“It’s not by any means a silver bullet or something that closes a tech or data deficiency, but it does take a big step forward in terms of creating a culture where the latest digital trends are part of the conversation in the GOP,” Martinez said.
The autopsy report claimed that “one of the clearest lessons from 2012 is that Republicans must catch up on how we utilize technology in our campaigns” to reach and track potential voters and to maximize outreach efforts.
Democrats haven’t registered for a domain of their own, but they’re dismissing the notion that they’ll be at any disadvantage.
“This would be a solution to a problem if people couldn’t find Republicans’ website,” said Michael Czin, press secretary for the Democratic National Committee. “But I’m pretty sure that’s not a problem.”
“I think the Republicans’ problem is 2012 and coming out of 2012 wasn’t their technology,” he added. “Their message was their greater problem, then they had technological shortcomings.”
For Republicans, the new name is part of a massive branding effort that aims to unify the party online and help micro-target supporters.
“I think the organizing tools are also one of the most exciting benefits,” Martinez said. “You could do things like absentee.gop or really targeted, laser-focused organizing tools that would push people to automated solutions for basically organizing online.”
Not only official Republican Party entities, but private businesses, college Republicans, or any other organization that wants to align itself with the party could get a .gop url to clearly identify themselves.
The domain should also provide a measure of trust by making it clear to potential donors that they aren’t being scammed by an imposter website. The party will control the domain extension, but won’t be policing each proposal.
The Republican effort is part of a broader change to the syntax of the Internet that could profoundly alter how people think websites’ structure. In addition to .gop, companies from Nike to McDonald’s have also applied for domain extensions, as have cities such as New York and Paris.
The expansion of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) is being run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit group that manages domains online. The push could create more than 1,000 new extensions on top of the 22 traditional generic domain names like .com and .net, as well as current country codes including .uk, .ca or .au.
ICANN received about 1,900 applications for new gTLDs. Some of the more popular names, however, like .app, were redundant.
Not all of the strings are being welcomed fondly.
Last week, Sen. Jay RockefellerJohn (Jay) Davison RockefellerHumorless politics a sad sign of our times Bottom Line World Health Day: It's time to fight preventable disease MORE (W-W.Va.) wrote ICANN a letter asking the organization to block bids to run the gTLD “.sucks,” which he said would be used “as little more than a predatory shakedown scheme” to force companies to pay to prevent having “sucks” after their name.
Right now, .gop is just awaiting ICANN’s final step, called delegation, which could happen as soon as this week. After that, there will be a 60-day window for trademark owners who want to register their site, and then it will be open to the general public. The plan is to sell domain names for $20.16 each.
Some Democrats have eyed the Republican effort hungrily.
Jim Messina, Obama’s former campaign manager and a co-chairman of a liberal super-PAC backing former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Hill: Trump reelection would spur 'one constitutional crisis after another' Trump defends indicted GOP congressman MORE, said last month he was “pissed” that Republicans were getting a gTLD and Democrats had not applied for one of their own.
At the Beyond the Dot conference in Washington, Messina said that Obama’s reelection campaign would have been able to better target people and provide an added level of security if he had had a gTLD as “another piece of my toolbox.”
For the time being, Democrats may be shut out. The window for gTLD applications is closed and an ICANN official told The Hill that it could be years until even more new domain extensions are considered.