The PJ Tatler

Who's Winning the #Julia War Online?

The Washington Post‘s Rachel Weiner wades into the “Life of Julia” war, declaring that the Obama campaign is craftily using the creepy cartoon to draw the Republicans in.

On Thursday morning, President Obama’s campaign launched a new interactive infographic — “The life of Julia.”

Her’s how it works:You follow a cartoon woman named Julia from age 3 to age 67. At each step along the way, you learn how she was helped by policies pushed by Obama and how she would be hurt by differing policy prescriptions favored by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Oversimplified? Yes. Slanted to favor Obama? Of course.(This is politics, after all.) Effective? Well, just look at how Republicans responded — by talking about #Julia on Twitter and Tumblr all day.

Here’s Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus:

is bummed. Her share of the national debt went up $16,345 under Obama. 1.usa.gov/9lDQhC

Fair point. But talking about Julia means talking about women voters and women’s issues, where Obama dominates.

Had the Republicans ignored Julia, Weiner would have responded that they’re not up to speed and cannot keep up with Obama and his tech-savvy team. Heads Obama wins, tails the Republicans lose.

And by talking about a fictional woman named Julia, Republicans just drive more people to Obama’s campaign website.

And mocking it, without mercy or pity, or hitting the donate button. As David Steinberg reported here, Twitter lit up and Julia blew up in Obama’s face:

Right off the bat, “#Julia” trended to the top of Twitter as the second-most popular current hashtag in the United States; to the horror of David Axelrod and the increasingly dated tacticians of the Obama campaign, virtually every mention of #Julia was a conservative mocking the slideshow.

The RNC moved quickly to get Julia into inboxes and Twitter feeds around the country.

Within hours, the Republican response machine was up and churning on Mr. Romney’s behalf — determined not to let “Julia” become an effective tool for Mr. Obama’s campaign.

An e-mail from the Republican National Committee urged conservatives to use the Twitter hashtag #Julia to mock the timeline. And mock they did. Throughout the day, Twitter was filled with sarcastic messages that described “Julia” as a ward of the government.

The Post counters that all of the attention ends up benefiting the Obama campaign anyway by driving traffic to its site. But is that traffic bringing in donors and building votes, or costing the campaign a small amount of money in bandwidth and making the campaign look ridiculous? That’s still anyone’s guess, though a day of mockery has surely gotten under the president’s skin.

We’re certainly seeing a new dynamic in campaigning, driving the news cycle down from 24 hours in the pre-Internet age to just a few seconds, and often involving the candidates and their surrogates and even spouses in the pushback. In the case of Julia, the Obama campaign probably expected a mostly positive response and a little media push, not the tornado of mocking tweets it got. RNC Chairman Reince Preibus has been quick to move at the speed of wit to lead Twitter counter attacks. Hilary Rosen’s attack on Ann Romney for being a stay-at-home mom drew Romney herself to lead the pushback on Twitter. Obama’s dog tale against Romney came back as #ObamaEatsDogs and #ObamaDogRecipes. The mockery is its own power, and has its roots in Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. I doubt most mainstream media reporters have any clue what they’re seeing from that tactical point of view: One of Obama’s primary influences is being turned and effectively used against him.

The best part of Twitter, from a rapid response and media message point of view, is that it doesn’t cost a thing. Obama’s team spent some amount of money to create Julia. There were meetings about it, storyboards, some memos outlining what messages overt and covert the cartoon should carry, when it should be unveiled, and so forth. Julia was meant to play some useful role in re-electing Barack Obama. All of that has been obliterated in a day of snarky tweets, forcing the media to talk about the war over Julia instead of all of the ways Julia gets to benefit from Obama’s beneficence throughout her life. Julia is a wasted weapon now, only the most convinced Obama voter will find her anything but silly and maybe more than a little chilling. Obama already had those votes in the bag.