Albert Eisenberg was sure they weren’t actually from “Funny or Die.”
There was no way a camera crew from one of his favorite places on the Internet had made it to Wynnefield in West Philadelphia on Election Day — and there was certainly no way Eisenberg, the 25-year-old new communications director for the Philadelphia GOP, was actually talking to them.
“I literally look at them and I’m like, ‘OK, bye,’” Eisenberg recalled. “Like, you’re not from ‘Funny or Die.’” Half an hour later, Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog — ya know, this one — showed up. “And I love Insult,” Eisenberg said. “He’s done some really funny election stuff.”
So Eisenberg, who had hauled it out to West Philly to monitor a situation of what the party believed was Election Day fraud, had this (semi-awkward) interview. With Insult. On “Funny or Die.”
These types of quirky communications and media appearances aren’t exactly something the Philadelphia GOP has always been known for. Same for the party’s recently snark-filled, emoji-laced tweets and Facebook posts. Or their snappy press releases slamming the Democratic party that runs the city.
But since last spring, Eisenberg — who owns his own public relations firm and is on contract with the city party as its first communications director — has been trying to inject a little youthfulness and vision into the party that so often gets forgotten in this largely Democratic city.
And he’s doing it from the perspective of someone who just seems like the perfect portrait of a liberal. Eisenberg rolled up to our interview at a trendy Fishtown coffee shop on a bicycle while wearing a checkered, coral pink, button-down shirt. He proudly notes in his Twitter bio that he’s a gay, Jewish Republican “or, the least popular person in Bahrain.” He’s a former advocate for organizations that lobby for better protections for LGBT people.
But he isn’t actually a liberal. I wouldn’t call him a far-right conservative, either. He’s somewhere in the middle with socially liberal tendencies, conservative leanings when it comes to other policy and, most noticeably, an almost-scientific, analytical approach to politics.
“My goal,” he said, “is to help build an urban Republican party that will compete for votes.”
The way to do that? First step: Build on social media.
Strategy for the Philly GOP
Eisenberg knows that the first time someone sees messaging from the Philadelphia GOP on social media, their first thought is probably: “What the fuck is that?”
Here in Philly, registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 7-to-1 margins. Philadelphia hasn’t had a Republican mayor since the fifties, and the Democratic party has been in control of this city — like it has in many others — for decades. Few major cities in America have well-functioning Republican parties that compete for votes within city limits.
Part of the problem is messaging. Most of the problem, Eisenberg admits, is that over the years, Republicans have failed to go to cities and work to reach voters. Now, they’re fighting history.
Eisenberg, a Philadelphia native who went to college in D.C., moved back to Philly in 2015 and networked his way to meeting with Joe DeFelice, the executive director of the Philadelphia Republican party. He convinced DeFelice that he could help with their communications strategy, specifically to get some of their content spread to national and international media. DeFelice signed him on. Fast.
“One of the first things I did when I started was say, ‘the Philadelphia Republican party opposes the one-party rule that’s held our city back,’” Eisenberg said. “One-party rule is bad in a democracy. Period.”
But what he’s also done is worked to make the social media presence and the media communications of the Philadelphia GOP — as opposed to the almost non-existent social media presence of the Philadelphia Democratic party as a whole — a little more unique, and a lot more responsive. The idea is that after someone, especially a young person, sees that initial “WTF, Philly has a Republican party?” post, maybe then they see another they agree with. Then another. Then another. Then maybe they can be convinced to come to a happy hour or to explore the party more than they might have before.
There have been tweets clapping on the news, like this:
And Facebook posts like this:
And media communications with a level of snark not seen coming from most political offices. For instance, after The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a city lawyer who was caught on camera watching another person spray paint “Fuck Trump” on a grocery store in Chestnut Hill, the Philadelphia GOP pounced. It was helpful that the lawyer, Duncan Lloyd, was wearing what appeared to be an ascot and carrying a glass of wine during the incident.
“It was like, ‘This is a zeitgeist,’” Eisenberg said. “It was such a ridiculous story.”
So he fired off a press release calling for the city to fire Lloyd that ended up getting national coverage itself. Probably because it featured lines like this:
“If the image of an upper-middle class city attorney clad in a blazer and sipping wine while vandalizing an upscale grocery store with an anti-Trump message strikes you as perhaps the most bourgeois sight imaginable, that’s because it is.”
“For somebody with extensive legal training to feel entitled to vandalize a newly opened super-market strikes us at the Philadelphia Republican Party as an astonishing feat of idiocy. Did the extra glass of Shiraz give him some sort of delusional confidence that there are no cameras on Germantown Ave?”
Since Eisenberg started, both the Philly GOP’s followings on Facebook and Twitter have increased exponentially. Their media mentions have, too.
But it has not all gone well. There have been social media arguments with reporters and Democratic operatives and random folks on Twitter. At first, DeFelice admits, Eisenberg struggled in some ways to get down the voice of where DeFelice wanted to go. But he’s improved, he says, and has “brought youth, intelligence and diversity” to the staff and has allowed him to focus on fundraising instead of communications and social media.
“It helps us appeal to a much younger audience,” DeFelice said. “This is a way to say ‘look, whatever you heard is wrong. This is who we are.’”
Lauren Casper, the Philadelphia GOP’s finance director during the last election who worked closely with Eisenberg, said having a young generation involved in an urban political party can make all the difference because “we’re not talking about, like, boring Republican stuff. And our comms director is gay. And we love that.”
“He is what a young Republican is now,” she said. “I am what a young Republican is now. And I think the perspective that Albert brings? We’re lucky to have that.”
Eisenberg said his efforts are a small step in making the city party at least a little bit more relevant again.
“What the people of Philadelphia are waiting on is for somebody to come and engage them on these issues,” he said, talking about the soda tax and corruption within the Democratic party. “And I try to do that.”
A background in advocating
Before Eisenberg cut his teeth in social media at a public relations firm in New York, he worked as a field organizer with Pennsylvania Competes, an organization that pushed the passage of LGBT non-discrimination legislation by emphasizing the benefits to business and the economy.
For several months, he worked largely in the Lehigh Valley and spearheaded efforts to get GOP legislators on board with passing the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, a statewide LGBT non-discrimination bill similar to others adopted at every other state in the Northeast (and by dozens of municipalities across Pennsylvania.) Pennsylvania still does not have an LGBT non-discrimination bill on the books. But Eisenberg said traveling to small towns to ask councils to pass resolutions urging their elected officials to pass the legislation wasn’t as contentious as some might assume.
“Nobody burned a cross on my lawn, you know what I mean?” he said. “If you come in and start yelling and throwing your rainbow flag and antagonizing people and saying ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’… you’re not ever going to get these people on board.”
Because of his politics, Eisenberg said he has complicated thoughts on major LGBT advocacy groups that are largely liberal. He said, first and foremost, that “gay people owe all the credit in the world to mostly left of center leaders who have been pushing this stuff.” What frustrates him, he said, is an idea that LGBT advocates should automatically support other progressive causes.
“Obviously I’m gay, so I must support teachers unions, or whatever litany of liberal causes there are,” he said.
Still, Eisenberg says he will not vote for a political candidate who isn’t progressive on LGBT issues. And he thinks that moving forward, even in the Republican party, that will not be out of the ordinary.
Election Day (and after)
Somewhere in between Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog and watching the results pour in at the end of the night at the GOP headquarters in Northeast Philly, Eisenberg voted at his Northern Liberties voting location. He voted for Evan McMullin, the former CIA operative who ran for president as an independent.
“I thought we had a historically terrible choice between two bad candidates who were bad in different ways,” Eisenberg said. But, he admitted, it was hard not to be on the “Trump Train” as the results were coming in and he was surrounded by die-hard Trump voters.
He also admits the impact Trump had on bringing out voters who may not have voted before or who were more energized to vote because of the movement he led. In the city of Philadelphia, Trump won 108,000 votes compared to Clinton’s 584,000. Trump won about 12,000 more votes than Mitt Romney did in 2012, despite Philly having 7,000 fewer registered Republicans this time around.
“I’m not a Trump person,” Eisenberg said, “but he engaged with city issues. And he might have done it in a way that was demagogic. And he might have done it in a way that was condescending. But it’s like, who cares more? Who is willing to do something interesting to get a new vote or to get a new perspective on it? In this case, it was Trump.”
Eisenberg also likes to think improved communications from the Philly GOP might have moved the needle, even slightly, to energize voters to turn out. The bigger issue though is getting candidates, especially statewide Republicans, to just come to the city.
“The Philadelphia Republican Party, and I think a challenge to the one-party rule in our city, has to become more robust,” Eisenberg said. “And I plan on being robust with the voice that I have.”