The Fine Print
The GOP may have a crowded field of likely 2016 candidates all vying to become the next commander-in-chief, but Sen. Rand Paul has already secured the unofficial title as “troller-in-chief.”
That’s because the Kentucky Republican, who is openly exploring the possibility of a White House run, has taken to social media in recent months to make jabs and poke fun of other likely candidates -- even posting a “secret tape” of a fake phone call between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton.
The man behind the provocative tweets, memes and hashtags is Vincent Harris, 26, the chief digital strategist for Paul. Harris sat down for an interview with “The Fine Print.” Harris previously worked for Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is another prospective 2016 presidential candidate.
“Sen. Paul from the beginning has been very digitally savvy,” Harris said during an interview in Washington. “Even in my first interview with him, he mentioned that he wanted to run a cutting-edge digital campaign -- something new, something that was very different than what President Obama had run.”
But Harris said Paul’s digital strategy isn’t just about picking fights with possible 2016 rivals -- it’s also about differentiating Paul from the pack.
“The strategy and the number one problem that people have in politics is just getting their information across to somebody -- how do you reach somebody at all,” Harris said. “News and information has to be entertaining, it's got to be interesting and it's got to be different than how everyone else is communicating.”
Harris picked up his cellphone to explain his point further.
“People expect their politicians now to take serious messages, to take serious policy and to deliver it to them in a way they can read through this device -- through memes, through Web videos, through personal Facebook posts, through short, pithy tweets,” he said.
On the Internet, he said, creativity is key. Gone are the days of simply posting press releases on Facebook or linking to a speech on the floor of the Senate.
“I was reading a study about millennial moms and how they use their mobile device more than watch TV, more than go on their laptop,” Harris said. “How do you reach a millennial mom? You have to communicate on her mobile device. She's on Facebook, she's on Pinterest, she's on Instagram.”
Communicating through those mediums, Harris said, means that the media itself needs to more entertaining than straight news.
And though Harris declares that he “love[s] the Republican Party,” he takes on a less than amorous tone when discussing the GOP’s lagging digital strategy.
“This is about furthering our ideals, and running the same type of campaigns that Ronald Reagan ran is not going to do that,” he said. “And it's TV consultants largely, and this establishment class here in the Washington bubble beltway, who are running campaigns the same way, and you can't do that anymore.”
Harris’ resume extends well beyond his current role working for Paul and Cruz before him.
He has also worked on the campaigns of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Gov. Mike Huckabee, Gov. Rick Perry and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. He is also currently consulting on social media strategy for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign.
Though Harris declined to discuss specifics of his ongoing work for Netanyahu, the essence of Harris’ digital strategy comes down to making politics digestible and relatable to an increasingly mobile society.
“The beauty of social media is that it's social, it's interactive,” Harris explained. “And if you look at a lot of other politicians ... they take their message and just shove it at people, but that's not what Sen. Paul wants to do. Sen. Paul wants to have a social discussion.”
For more of the interview with Harris, and to hear how he believes “tea party grandmas” are taking over the Internet, check out this episode of “The Fine Print.”
ABC News’ Jordyn Phelps, Ali Dukakis, Tom Thornton, Chris Carlson and David Girard contributed to this episode.
Special thanks to Bar Dupont for providing a space for the interview.