Joe Trippi speaks at Digital Democracy Teach-In

Here are my notes on former Dean campaign manager, Joe Trippi:

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  • ❑ Joe Trippi at ETech
  • ❑ The one thing that is amazing to me is how the press, who frankly could never figure out what the Dean campaign was now feel qualified to judge whether the Dean campaign was a success.
  • ❑ I fervently believe that we are at a pivotal point in history. Broadcast politics has failed us miserably. Debate isn't happening anywhere in the country except on the Internet.
  • ❑ The Dean campaign was about bringing real change to the American people. ANd that means fixing a system that was broke, that is rotted and corrupted.
  • ❑ Nixon-Kennedy debate changed everything. No one would have predicted it would become a race for money to buy a one-way media that shut the American people out of the process. And that is what all of us in the Dean campaign ran smack into. To believe that you could overthrow that system in a 13-month cycle… we had the ability to…there is only one tool, one platform that allows the American people to take their government back, and that is the Internet. It is going to happen because millions of Americans decide to act together in concert.
  • ❑ 33 lobbyists for every member of Congress.
  • ❑ This was not a dot-com crash. The Howard Dean campaign was a dot-com miracle.
  • ❑ seven people, 432 known supporters nationwide. last January. It is a miracle that Howard Dean moved from there to $45 M raised. Compared to Clinton, who was the previous record holder. I didn't do it, you did it. ….Americans who understood that this wasn't about one guy, that no one is going to change America for you, that you have to do it yourself.
  • ❑ There were so many things that went right. We tried everything. Where did MeetUp.com come from? I read Jerome Armstrong's blog — he thought I was an idiot. The first instance of Meetup.com came from a blog — that was a time when we were a couple hundred people around the country. Today, more than 200,000 people meet for Howard Dean each month. This was the Internet getting people to do something offline. The tools online help people fulfill aspirations offline.
  • ❑ You're talking to people on such a credible level
  • ❑ MoveOn is a real pioneer of the movement. They were basically best practices (to learn from). They didn't want to help one candidate, they wanted to share their best practices. They were instrumental with their advice (to the Dean campaign).
  • ❑ The political press has no way to write about this. The Internet community in many ways doesn't understand the hard cold realities of American politics.
  • ❑ Scream ran 933 times nationwide. It wasn't news, it was entertainment. It was the heat-seeking missle hitting its targetting. That was damaging, not what the governor did. ABC apologized. CNN admitted they ran it too many times. But they are also saying the campaign didn't work.
  • ❑ The anti-war statement made other candidates say he was out of his mind. It made the other guys in the race say "man, I gotta do that." It made people see that people had to take the president on when he was wrong.
  • ❑ Suddenly there was a debate whether there were WMD or not (I think the debate was going before Dean.)
  • ❑ He's talking the populist line — it's time we own the White House
  • ❑ Now knocking Kerry about money
  • ❑ Then we hear the "they stole the good lines" from Dean complaint. It wasn't just Howard Dean, it was about hundreds of thousands of Americans making a real difference.
  • ❑ Record turnouts is due to an engergized democratic party. Who did that? Howard Dean.
  • ❑ Other campaigns "pure ripoffs" of Dean tech strategy.
  • ❑ I think our democracy is threatened in ways the American people just don't understand yet.
  • ❑ The Republican party earns more money in contributions of all levels.
  • ❑ Except the Demcrats at $1 million+
  • ❑ Dean turned that on its head
  • ❑ It is about the money. That is, unfortunately, what it is all about.
  • ❑ We have revolution 1.0 in the 1700s, we're the beta stage today.
  • ❑ The day isn't that far off when.. it only takes a couple million Americans to…change the entire thing
  • ❑ I believe it can happen in this cycle
  • ❑ the energy and the tools are all in place.
  • ❑ the Internet wasn't mature enough befreo
  • ❑ Meetup, Friendster, etc.
  • ❑ You needed that many more americans to use Amazon and Ebay to be comfortable with making a contribution on the Net
  • ❑ It took a party that was morbid about how it raised money
  • ❑ to get the other campaigns to decide to use the Net to raise money
  • ❑ What you need to understand about the political system. You guys don't understand.
  • ❑ Jimmy Carter, after him. the party pulled this thing together, the Hunt Commission, to make sure Carter never happened again. never bowed to the hierarchy on the way to White House
  • ❑ The primary calendar is designed to make sure this works against insurgents
  • ❑ This system was designed for an establishment front runner like Kerry.
  • ❑ (What about if Dean had won?)
  • ❑ Only hope to become so strong and so formidable as an insurgent to knock out the establishment candidate in Iowa. We did a pretty damn good job of it
  • ❑ We got to a place where according to the party rules it was impossible to get to. to be ahead in the polls and with more money than anyone. It was all done with people, hundreds of thousands of them all using the tools built over the internet. Then we ran straight into broadcast politics. Al Gore endorsed us and what happened was alarm bells went off in every newsroom and every other campaign in the country. That alarm said "Kill now, Kill Howard Dean this second." In the press corps, the alarm bell said "This guy is about to be the nominee of the party and we have to hammer this guy. That's our job." The media thinks that is there responsibility. The Gephardt campaign committed suicide. It was the dot-com miracle being shot down. ANd now there is a need to say "it failed." What is so scary about the American people actually getting involved in their democracy?
  • ❑ It's the broadcast politics of this country.
  • ❑ Did the governor give them ammo on occasion? yes he did. But god help us if the mistakes of Joe Trippi or Howard Dean stop people from making a difference.
  • ❑ We are, you are, the Internet is, the most powerful tool ever put in the hands of the ordinary American. $25 with hundreds of thousadns of Americans working together turns the system on its head
  • ❑ We are powerful. that is why we are at just first the stages of it if we continue to fight, if we continue to develop the tools
  • ❑ Blog generating ideas: red bat. "Go get a red bat." Real-time, the bat tossed to the governor as he hit the top step of the podium. The blog people knew that they had suggested it and seen it 45 minutes later.
  • ❑ It was the governor saying "I know you told me to do this." This was the first campaign really owned by the American people and we have to build a movement owned by the American people. We didn't know what we were doing half the time. Did it all work? A surprising amount of it did.
  • ❑ The one frustration I had, given what we were trying to do, we didn't have the luxury–what all of us were up against-we didn't have the luxury of being in different camps. We didn't have the luxury to say "some of us go off and work for Dennis Kucinich and I think Edwards a good guy and I am going to blog for it. We need a unity movement. We have the power to give the American people their power back.
  • ❑ No knight on a white horse is going to ride into Washington and change this country by itself. There is only one force, the American people, and the Internet is the platform for them to come together and take their country back.
  • ❑ Standing ovation.
  • ❑ Ed Cone: What got people to the polls?
  • ❑ Trippi: We still need to work on tools that let people working online work together offline. Deanlink — top person was a 14-year-old in Alaska. the second was a 47 year old retired union worker
  • ❑ Dying guy decided to buy a $500 PC and became a leader in his community.
  • ❑ It's easy to build the list of 600,000 people who will take email and casual usage
  • ❑ we still need tools for on-the-ground campaign
  • ❑ the other problem is the transparency — competition downloaded names and wrote their own letters
  • ❑ What would have prevented Karl Rove having 15 people sign up, go to Iowa, get our training and put on the orange hat, then rob a bank.
  • ❑ Cone: Use ecommerce as an analogy. How important to mesh with enabling technologies and systems of people?
  • ❑ Trippi: slates of electors/delegates. we thought meetup people should be a component of those lists, but the county chair says "I should be the delegate" A lot of the arguing between the campaign and the grassroots was about stuff like that
  • ❑ Hopefully this movement is the thing that stays and coexists with broadcast media
  • ❑ Cone: Your pay and the finances of the campaign. The Itnernet is supposed to make things cost effective.
  • ❑ Trippi: A misunderstanding of what we were. The Kerry campaign will put on a million-dollar dinner. You spend $350K on a ballroom and food and entertainment. You make $1million but you spent $350K. In the Dean campaign, we did remarkably bold and crazy stuff. We bought $100K of TV in Austin — to get sign ups and to get media coverage and to put up a bat with a call for the donations. "Why did you waste money in Austin?" What our people want is to see someone take on George Bush in his home turf. The $100K is a fund-raising cost of raising a million dollars.
  • ❑ I don't know what is more offensive, that the implication that I am a thief or that I am a really bad theif. I made $165,000 on the Dean campaign in 2003. That's a lot. but why they are doing this: how do you stop this movement dead? You make them think its Trippi-get-rich scheme. It's the worst, meanest thing I've seen all year. First of all, I didn't have the spending control. Spent about $7.2 million on TV. Steve McMann, my partner, had been doing Howard Dean's media for 12 years — he would have, even if I hadn't been involved. I would have gotten my third if I hadn't been campaign manager.
  • ❑ I managed the campaign for nothing. This is not about getting me, this is about stopping this from going on.
  • ❑ Most of the $7.2 million is at an Iowa TV Station.
  • ❑ normally a 15 percent commission. we didn't take that. I didn't know until the other day that it was seven percent. this is about assigning the blame is about trying to knock down the movement.
  • ❑ Cone: How well was the campaign able to incorporate ideas from the grass-roots?
  • ❑ Trippi: One of our biggest problems was being on top of things. So many ideas coming across the transom. It's hard to be sure you are seeing all of this. Idea from blog about governor eating a turkey sandwich while Cheney at million-dollar meal.
  • ❑ Lessig blog: Weinberger: authentic moment because Dean's comments so mundane
  • ❑ Cone: State and local races. How applicable is what you have done to a senate or local race?
  • ❑ Trippi: Look at Meetup. Now you see congressional and senate races
  • ❑ How do we get a movement of people going that are involved nationally on this grander thing but also active at the local level. The interesting question is what would have happened if a grassroots campaign had run congressional candidates, too? Had we had two or three years of planning I am not sure I would have done that.
  • ❑ We're four to eight years away from this slide making it impossible to turn this around
  • ❑ Audience: I agree with the dot-com analogy is wrong. I personally experienced the virtual and real–I came to know Dean, then met him and saw a different person. How did that affect expectations?
  • ❑ Trippi: that's what is going on with Kerry now. People only know he's won. If they don't know what the guy thinks, they think he agrees with them. I don't think that happend in Iowa, as people saw him (Dean) in person. 11 days a month. Almost every Iowan who votes meets the candidates. That takes into account the difference between Net and personal knowledge. What happened in Iowa was a dynamic change in the way people were thinking after the Gore endorsement and the other candidates were out to kill him, and there was no way to get around that reality. The campaign and candidate made some missteps that gave them ammo. I did it — we spent about $1 mm on TV during the sleepless summer campaign. I thought Wes Clark wasn't going to get in — see what we could raise by raising the agenda. I miscalculated, Clark got in. A million of the $7.2 MM spent on TV. Yielded only $1.2 million in additional donations.
  • ❑ Cone: What happened after November, specifically online.
  • ❑ We couldn't figure out how do manage all these people. Our internet supporters were complacent-we've got more money and we're ahead. We had so many people who had not taken their family to dinner. Suddenly, he's ahead, and people said, "Hey, we're going to dinner." The stakes were higher than ever. but we couldn't communicate that. I didn't ring the alarm bells in the right way.
  • ❑ Cone: So, you had the most formidable campaing machine and you couldn't communicate?
  • ❑ No, but now the press was reading our blog. The headlines say "Howard Dean says he is in more trouble than ever." I'm not saying we didn't make it because of that. But how do you have honest communication with your support base when everyone is watching. We stopped saying ads were coming to keep Kerry from knowing ads were going up. But people took that as being more closed. How do you maintain that openness and free spirit? In June, who cares? But now, the Kerry campaign is desperate to know when you are going out with ads. There is some growing up and education that needs to happen.
  • ❑ Glenn Tenney: You've been using the national net to incite some global people. When do you expect it will be a local constituency?
  • ❑ Trippi: Not sure the net is mature enough to do that. Urban centers don't have enough acces. Iowa, for instance, the Internet community is almost nonexistent. We had to bring in a national base to go into the community to make the message known. If you have 60K contributors and 100K volunteers in Calif., it will not win you Calif. Sooner or later, at this stage, you have to get into broadcast politics.
  • ❑ Dan Gillmor: So, what can be done on the Net to overcome the screwed up press?
  • ❑ Trippi: Lott showed it can be important. We were the hottest thing on the Internet from January to June, but the press didn't give a damn until the money came in. the only they could write about was the money. "It's the money, stupid." That's why they say Trippi got rich off this, to stop the money.
  • ❑ That's what we have to understand. If in one day, 200,000 people gave a hundred bucks it would change this country.
  • ❑ For 12 months, the question was change vs. status quo and the campaign was dominated by Dean. Then Gore endorses, and the media says "If you vote for Howard Dean in Iowa, he's the nominee. Are you ready to do that?" This happened to Bill Clinton in Colorado with Jerry Brown. Carter with Jerry Brown. This all moved up, without a single vote being cast.
  • ❑ Today, we're voting for momentum. In Wisconsin, the voters will face the same question, again, but about Kerry. Does Kerry ask Dean for DFA?
  • ❑ You haven't seen the last of me.
  • Author: Mitch Ratcliffe

    Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran entrepreneur, journalist and business model hacker. He operates this site, which is a collection of the blogs he's published over the years, as well as an archive of his professional publishing record. As always, this is a work in progress. Such is life.

    4 thoughts on “Joe Trippi speaks at Digital Democracy Teach-In”

    1. Excellent! Thanks for the post Mitch. I was curious what Trippi had to say.

      A few of the points he made really struck home with me:
      We still need tools for on-the-ground campaign
      The other problem is the transparency — competition downloaded names and wrote their own letters.
      What would have prevented Karl Rove having 15 people sign up, go to Iowa, get our training and put on the orange hat, then rob a bank.
      I’ve been thinking about these very issues since Iowa. It’s good to see he’s aware of the problems.

      I’ll be curious what Trippi’s going to do next with all this first-hand knowledge.

    2. I think he is anticipating what Dean does after he drops out, the talk here at the conference being that Dean will “do a Pat Robertson” and try to create a long-term movement. We shall see.

    3. One of the interesting things about living out in the hinterlands is how distant much of this seems to me.

      Living here in Alabama, I’m both intellectually connected to this and at the same time disconnected from feeling as if I have any real impact on any sort of “Digital Democracy” movement.

      It’s difficult to imagine any state which would benefit more from developing new ways for like-minded people to connect and work together towards real political goals. And yet, I don’t see a lot of thought being given to trying to move some of these ideas to the state and local level, where they are desperately needed.

      I think it’s great that there was a Teach-In. I guess I just wish that I felt there had been someone there representing those areas of the country that don’t have a concentration of tech-savvy people or an important primary campaign.

      I have this hunch that part of the reason the Dean campaign imploded was that it forgot a fundamental axiom: that all politics is local.

      The Dean campaign was great at marshalling nationwide resources, from raising money to convincing people to write letters and donate time and resources. But they never really seemed to build the forces on the ground, at the local level. And particularly in New Hampshire, I think that hurt them.

      Ten motivated local people are worth 500 people working long-distance, and I suspect that’s a lesson to remember as people continue to define what this new “Digital Democracy” really means.

    Comments are closed.