Are you super excited for the 2016 presidential election? Do you fancy yourself an amateur Nate Silver type as you analyze and break down each candidate's strategies and chances? If so, you should start paying attention to the brilliant campaign that's very much underway even though it's not even a campaign for any political candidate. It's actually the crucial battle between Uber and the political class. Uber's "campaign manager," is already working it like a master, and Democrats and Republicans have a lot to learn from how it's being done.
Let's first explain why this campaign truly is so important. The numbers don't lie, and when it comes to Uber, the numbers say very clearly that Uber is a major hit. A study out earlier this week showed that Uber now tops taxis for business use. In some cities like San Francisco, Uber is grabbing 70% of the business travel pie. Thousands of people in major cities who lived for decades with no choice but to tolerate thin taxi service availability have found that Uber is finally a 24/7 solution. And it's not just about convenience; the average Uber ride is 13% cheaper than a taxi. Oh, and Wall Street is basically valuing the company at $50 billion.
But I don't have to tell you how and why Uber is popular. You know that already and you're already hooked. That's because you're a regular a consumer and not a politician or a brainwashed political activist. The fight to win over politicians and regulators is a much harder battle because the political class operates under its own set of rules and values. In the marketplace, all you have to do is provide the customer with a better product. I know that's a lot easier said than done, but at least it's a simple and understandable goal. Winning over the politicians on an ever-changing playing ground of election polls, campaign donors, and bureaucratic roadblocks is a much more difficult task. But just about every American business, old or new, will eventually have to fight and win this battle in order to survive. And we need enough of those businesses to win to keep our economy and our country truly alive. And that's why this new battle of free market success story vs. government intervention is really more important than next year's presidential election.
Don't just take my word for it. Uber knew it was going to come down to this. That's why the company hired President Obama's 2008 campaign manager David Plouffe in 2014. It was nothing short of a coup for Uber to snag someone like Plouffe as its communications chief when he was so recently working as one of the top advisers in the White House's inner sanctum of the political class. But Plouffe spent most of his first year in that role combating day-to-day public relations challenges. He has since handed that job over to former Google executive Rachel Whetstone. Now he can focus on the bigger picture battle as chief adviser and board member, and the most powerful members of the political class are weighing in right on cue.
Democratic Party presidential front runner Hillary Clinton made the difference between members of the political class and the normal human public abundantly clear in The economic policy speech she made last week. She seemed to lightly praise the new options "sharing economy" companies like Uber provide, but she also expressed concern that they may need a lot more regulating to ensure employees get fair wages and benefits. Meanwhile, GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush tweaked Clinton by very publicly taking an Uber car to visit a San Francisco start-up two days after her speech. The move raised approving eyebrows among many pundits who don't usually ally with the Republican Party. But I'm not sure Governor Bush is so much a defender of the free market as someone who latched on to the very popular Uber and used it to take an amusing partisan shot at Secretary Clinton. In light of what we've seen over the past week, Uber vs. Uncle Sam looks more like the main event while Clinton and Bush look like supporting actors. And that's because they are.
Read MoreUber faces $7.3 million fine
It would be an enormous mistake for Uber to allow these ephemeral supporting actors to set the agenda. No major business or sector of the economy can survive if it only becomes favored by the Right or the Left. That's where I believe Plouffe is making a big difference already. Sure, he's a veteran of partisan campaigning for liberal Democrats, but don't be fooled into thinking Plouffe is there just to build bridges with liberal Democrats. Plouffe seems to be well aware that this is so much bigger than that. I say that based on Uber's ad defending itself against New York's Mayor Bill de Blasio's proposed caps on non-taxi medallion vehicles in the city. While these ads go after one of Plouffe's fellow Democrats, they're even smarter than that because they dedicate about 90% of their time to testimonials from Uber drivers and spend just 10% of the time bashing de Blasio. Thus, these ads will become interchangeable from city to city and state to state no matter what party the ruling power in those cities and states belongs to.
But not being partisan does not mean Plouffe and Uber need to forget some of the lessons learned from the partisan politics of the last few years. So the second enormous mistake Uber is NOT making is depicting its struggle as one of business vs. government. That's a mistake Plouffe knows the GOP has been making for years and he's not about to repeat it. The American voter just can't identify with a generic word like "business" or a phrase like "job creator." They need to have a specific name or entity to get behind, and Uber is a perfect choice. That turns this message into one of the government vs. a beloved product or service. Plouffe may be a Democrat, but this new campaign capitalizes and drastically improves on the traditional Republican message of free market innovation vs. the plodding, clueless, and harmful government bureaucrats. In the new Uber ad campaign, the harder to conjure "free market innovation" is replaced by real human Uber drivers and customers. Brilliant.
This crucial political campaign is just beginning. The taxi companies and statist forces within the bureaucracy aren't going to give in so easily. The number of jobs that require some form of government licensing are on the rise even as the percentage of the American population that's actually working continues to shrink. Uber can reverse that trend if it defeats de Blasio in New York, outmaneuvers its opponents in California, and wins a number of other challenges in the states in between. But if those victories are indeed won, then it's more likely that it will be Uber and companies like it that shape the course of American's future and not the political class or even the next President of the United States.