(Or, an elegy for the New Organizing Institute)
Good topic, good discussion. But:
“Likewise, progressive democrats have wondered for years why the extended Republican Party network is so much more effective at building lasting infrastructure.”
Don’t really think this is empirically true - there would be more evidence of this “network” in partisan outcomes if it were true. (the disparity-in-money part that you cover next seems true).
Similarly, the “Obama failed in building local party structures” has never struck me as persuasive. The lack of these structures is part of much larger societal forces.
I will also point out that we somehow think that mass texting and phone calls makes a real difference in campaigns. I have seen some of the studies on these strategies (one in particular about door knocking actually being effective), but the effects seems so small as to really be window dressing, especially for bigger races.
It is great that you are addressing this topic, however.
I think I'd go deeper still on why maintenance of this kind slipped away from the Democratic Party as early as Clinton and the DNC's "Third Way" style of politics, as the retail politics of the New Deal slipped away after the failure of the Great Society. Sure, leaders like Emmanuel disliked the 50 State Strategy because it wasn't amenable to direct central control, but on the other side of things, the particular character of the Democrats' social coalition on the ground wasn't easy to mobilize for maintenance or stewardship. On one hand, in 'blue' suburban communities and urban districts with lots of educated upper-middle-class professionals, most of the people after 1992 who were voting Democrat routinely had money to donate but not time. Even when they had time, they were the kind of people who were in other respects increasingly withdrawing from public goods or public life--the sort of folks who believed ideologically in public education but whose kids were in expensive private schools or fiercely contending to get into the top magnet schools--and who believed in some sense that they could be more effective politically by interacting with politics at a 'higher' level, outside of their communities. On the other hand, the other parts of the Democratic coalition--urban Black and Latino communities, smaller town Black communities in the South, etc.--often had strong community institutions that could coordinate and maintain local political mobilization but which were often locked off from access to the same kinds of local and county-level political power that GOP mobilization targeted.
So a 50 State Strategy, focused on maintenance of infrastructures for mobilization and participation, was going to fail even if national-level leadership believed in it because that failure honestly reflected the social incoherence of the Democrats' coalition--and this explains the religion built around innovation and digitization, because that just mirrors the generalized hustles that characterized upper-middle class professional institutional and community life starting in the late 1990s--the notion that the Internet or digital technology could somehow magically accelerate or compress the labor required to mobilize and maintain political coalitions and allow that labor to happen from an antiseptic distance, rather than spending hours in school board meetings, zoning commission meetings, town meetings, church socials, etc. Kind of a Clay Shirky "Here Comes Everybody" theory of political and social mobilization--that somehow there was some magical technological beneficience that multiplied effort and money put in and forgave the need to spend time on maintenance.