Uber, the ride-sharing app and tech company that has up-ended the taxi industry, has a new vice-president and strategist. He is not from the world of tech, but rather the world of politics: former Obama campaign operative David Plouffe.
At first glance, this seems like a surprising alliance. After all, Uber has been unabashed in its fight against various transportation regulations and taxi driver unions — things you wouldn’t think a longtime Democratic strategist would be embracing.
In fact, in recent weeks, Republicans have been doing the most vocal cheerleading for Uber. The RNC recently sent out an email petition with the headline, “Why We Need Uber.” It touts the company as a perfect example of GOP free-market ideals, and casts the challenges Uber has faced in some cities as a case of “unions and liberal government bureaucrats…setting up roadblocks, issuing strangling regulations and implementing unnecessary red tape to block Uber from doing business.” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus wrote an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune making a similar point.
So on Tuesday, when Uber announced it was hiring a top Democratic strategist, there was a lot of head scratching at GOP headquarters.
“I think we were a little shocked,” says RNC Press Secretary Kirsten Kukowski.
Jeff Berry, a professor of political science at Tufts University, was not shocked. He points out that Plouffe will join a company venture capitalists recently valued at more than $18 billion dollars.
“Ka-ching! There’s a lot of money that David Plouffe is going to make as a strategist,” Berry says.
Aside from the money, there are strategic reasons the Democratic Party might want to be associated with a tech start-up like Uber, he says.
“This actually gives the Democrats an opportunity to identify with a deregulatory environment, one in which entrepreneurs are free to develop new ideas and new businesses.”
The alliance could alienate some local taxi driver unions, taxi company owners, and people like Ramzi Reguii, an Uber driver in San Francisco who leads a network of Uber drivers pushing for tighter regulation of the company and better worker protections.
“That’s what the Democrats ought to do and that’s what the Republicans ought to do. You can support Uber, but you can also make it right at the same time,” Reguii says.
Meanwhile, in this era of partisan bickering, it finally seems that some Democrats and Republicans have found something they can agree on: they love Uber.