Joe Trippi is one of the few political consultants who speaks frankly, even to the detriment of his clients, and loves democracy even more than he loves politics. I caught up with him for an hour-long conversation about his work for the John Edwards campaign, why Hillary Clinton might be the Howard Dean of 2008, and how the Iowa caucus is like the Internet.
These excerpts were edited for length and clarity.
How has web organizing changed from 2004 to 2008?
If you have 37,000 ones [committed supporters] that have been ID’d and your guy walks out in a dress the next day: how many ones do you think are still going? And when the organization pulls the ones… they’re not ones anymore.
And the 2004 video of [Dean] dissing the caucus was the dress?
The video of him dissing the caucus, telling the 78-year-old guy, “Shut up and sit down, you had your turn, it’s my turn now.” I can go on and on and on. I’m just saying that–I don’t do this to run [Dean] down, that’s not my point. My point is it’s [messed] up to say that a bunch of kids, or people who believed in a guy, somehow lost him the election or didn’t know what they were doing. Because they did! It doesn’t matter. Someone is going to do that here, I think it may be Obama.
What happened with Kerry [is] the Dean operation actually augmented the Kerry and the Edwards get-out-the vote operation. It was turning out people that were no longer for Howard Dean. It didn’t not turn out the 37,000 people–they all got pulled [and] they all got out. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t get them out, the problem was that they weren’t for [Dean anymore].
The national media decided, for a while at least, to tell a story about a two-person race [without Edwards]. But Edwards is leading in the DailyKos polls, tremendously popular online, does that have any impact here in Iowa?
It tends to not have much impact as it does other places because Iowa is [different]. Dean had 650,000 [online supporters] identified nationwide, 2,100 were in Iowa. The state is much older. 50 percent of caucus attendees will be 65 or older. [Note: Trippi proved himself wrong here: it turned out that 22 percent of the 2008 Iowa caucus attendees were 65 and older, the youngest turnout in history.] That’s 50 percent; median would be about 62. The state is one of the oldest states in the country. It’s one of the least wired of any state in the country.
How do you see Internet organizing working in other states? Just the fact that you have those extra people to touch from a field perspective, or the narrative?
On a big day like February 5, where you suddenly are in a bunch of states, there’s no way for any campaign to compete with its own resources that day. It’s got to decentralize. Count on lots of supporters. And frankly, there’s not a whole lot that paid media can do on that day. Twenty states, you could blow all of whatever Obama’s got in the bank on California all by itself and still not have a penny left for any other state.