Transcription – Joe Trippi Interview

Q:              And that is, Dean goes to New Hampshire, and does not win.  Anything — was it just the fact that — the snowball of events continued, and New Hampshire was the next product of that?  Or was there something about New Hampshire that also explains why he lost there?

TRIPPI:       No, we had — I mean, look, the problem with New Hampshire always was going to be that it’s John Kerry’s territory.  I mean, John Kerry — I mean, it’s the same as Dukakis.  I mean, you’ve got a governor or a senator from Massachusetts.  The Boston media market, pretty much, bathes most of the populous areas [01:38:00] of New Hampshire — Nashua, you know, and Manchester. So, you’re — you know, he has — he starts with a big advantage there.  He had won Iowa.  I mean, it’s not like — you know, Dukakis won the bronze in Iowa, and then went and took New Hampshire.  So, you know, you knew, going in — Gephardt knew this too.  The strategy is win Iowa.  We would have a shot at New Hampshire because of Vermont’s proximity, but nowhere near what the Massachusetts TV market does for a guy in New Hampshire.  But it was sort of incumbent on winning Iowa — our strategy was win Iowa then take the Vermont-neighbor access, plus a win in Iowa, and do battle with Kerry.  And, if we’re lucky, we beat him there.  If not, we take second, and, you know, it’s us and Kerry off to the fight. [01:39:00] The problem with that was when, you know, we took third. He won, and now he’s going to New Hampshire.  And so, he — you know, it wasn’t — we had a very good chance there.  We had a very good organization.  We did very well in New Hamp– I mean, given the pro– we didn’t lose New Hampshire by much to Kerry.  It wasn’t like a blowout.  But we didn’t win it, and now you’ve got — you know, now you’ve got John Kerry — money is flowing to him.  By the — again, people ought to remember the entire Democratic establishment does not want Howard Dean to be the nominee.  I mean, they might have a legitimate fear in their heads that he can’t beat Bush.  You know, that’s it not — you know, that we can’t afford to have this guy go up against Bush.  We’ll lose, you know?  Whatever — I’m not putting, you know, bad [01:40:00] — you know, from their point of view, why… But they were all — it was like, the one thing that everybody agreed on was, “Not him.” So, now you’ve got the — you know, John Kerry has won Iowa, won New Hampshire.  Let’s all rally behind him, and let’s, like, thin it — you know, make sure this guy never gets off the ground again.  And so, you know, it — basically, that’s the way the whole campaign, you know, played out.  And so, you know, you look at what happened in 2004.  Who was the vice-presidential nominee?  Does anybody remember?

Q:              John Edwards.

TRIPPI:       John Edwards.  That’s what I’m saying.  It’s like, “Oh, he just happens to get out?”  And, you know, everything starts to move.  Everybody starts to roll behind Ker– Who knows what Dick Gephardt would have been if John Kerry had been elected president. [01:41:00] I don’t know.  I’m not saying anything.  (laughter)  I’m not — not like the three of them were on conference calls every day. But I’m just saying, like, they — you know, you’ve got this whole… Now the whole thing is moving in a way that, I think — you know, the party saying, “Hey, we’re gonna do what…”  You know, “Let’s…”  Like, “We don’t want a fight that goes all the way to the convention.  And we’ve got a sitting president who’s — who we’ve got to stop.  And we’re not gonna play that game, and we’re gonna,” you know, “dry up money, do everything we can, and unify behind one guy fast.”  And, by the way, Kerry did — the — I think that decision to go back into Iowa to write that personal check — I mean, the guy, I think, had a — I mean, literally, was one of the boldest things I’ve seen a candidate do.  I mean, it — I mean, because it — frankly, he was, at that moment, dead.  I mean, it was — you know, he was — [01:42:00] to think, “OK, I’m gonna make one more run at this, and I’m gonna my own — everything I…”  You know, put it all on the line in the face of what looked like, at the time — like that — no way.  To — for that guy to come back from that and become the nominee is a pretty amazing thing.  I mean, it tells you something about the kind of president he probably would have been.  He wasn’t going to — he didn’t — a lot of guys I know — and I’ve worked for a lot of people running for pres– a lot of them would have caved.  I mean, just caved and gone home and licked their wounds.  That guy did not do that.  So, I — he deserves a ton of credit for that win.

Q:              Let me ask you one last question.  And this is really asking you if you still agree with what Joe Trippi said at the Kennedy School Institute of Politics post-election gathering of campaign people on December 15th, 2004.  And you said, “In the end, I think the right thing happened. [01:43:00] Us crashing when we crashed was probably the best thing that could have happened to the Democratic Party.”  And Judy Woodruff then says, “You think Dean should not have been the nominee?”  And you say, “I think we would have lost 49 states.”  Does — do you still agree with Joe Trippi 10 years ago?

TRIPPI:       Yeah, I — yeah, the — but the reason I said that is — I say that is, I — is the number of things like, “I want to be the first gay president.”  In other words, there were — we — what I think happened — I became terrified at the things I knew we had said.  I don’t mean — I mean, like, we’re gonna — when we got to the lead, and I started to replay — I know there’s tape that says, “I want to be the first gay president.”  I know there’s tape that says, “Osama bin Laden is innocent until he’s proven guilty,” [01:44:00] despite the fact that we got tape of him saying he did it.  I mean, there — these are some of the things that, early on, in the days when we were cute and cuddly and no one was paying much attention to us, but there was a camera rolling… And so, what I meant by that wasn’t that Howard wouldn’t have been a good president.  What I meant is, Karl Rove had tape of him saying, “Osama bin Laden is innocent until he’s proven guilty.”  He had tape of the guy s– of my guy saying, “I want to be America’s first gay president.”  I think the reality is, again, we — I think we would have been, you know, a target, you know, in today’s politics.   And, look, they won as it was.  Look at what they did to Kerry.  I mean, how — they — you’ve got a guy who’s a hero [01:45:00] fighting for his country in Vietnam, and they somehow turned that into a swift boat… You know, I mean, swift boat the guy.  And I’m not talking about the Bush campaign, necessarily.  I’m talking about just all the different interest groups and things.  And so, what I was starting to worry about is, hey, you know, we’re gonna — you know, tape of a guy — of him saying, “Shut up and sit down.”  I mean, what I’m trying to say is, that stuff all was in — was back there.  Most of the world hadn’t seen it because we were just starting to emerge as the frontrunner.  But that stuff was all gonna be there.  And I don’t know — I think in 2013, almost all that stuff might have helped.  (laughter) But, you know, signing the first civil-unions law, being — [01:46:00] wanting to be the first gay president, you know, all that.  But in 2003, 2004?  It just shows you how fast both technology and the country has moved on a number of those kinds of issues.  In fact, I — you know… And, I mean, there are many others, I mean, that may seem tiny now.  But I remember just distinctly having a fear that… And I think — by the way, I think that’s why the press — one of the reasons the press was so anxious to run that tape — run the scream.  Because, you know, I realized the day after he said that, “I want to be America’s first gay president” — I realized that, you know, thank God.  Because, like, the New York Times didn’t stop the presses that night and run a banner front-page headline that said, [01:47:00] “Some guy you never heard of and are never gonna hear of announced today that he wants to be America’s first gay president.”  That wasn’t the banner headline in the New York Times.  Why?  Because we were somebody no one was ever gonna hear of.  And they weren’t gonna stop the pressed to write that story, so they didn’t.  And they didn’t write story after story of moments like that.  They don’t do it for a lot of candi– I don’t — I mean, because a lot of these second-tier candidates — they don’t think that Carol Moseley Braun is going to be president, so we shouldn’t care that she said this.  And, all of a sudden, one day, they all woke up and realized this guy might be running against George Bush.  And if he gets nominated, and we never showed anybody any of this tape, and we never wrote any of those stories — not because we’re bad reporters, but because it just — [01:48:00] they weren’t stories.  They didn’t matter.  But they’re gonna matter. And Karl Rove and Swift Boat Veterans for… You know, and all these other guys are gonna become — are gonna be — take all that stuff.  And are we — are — do we — how do we tell people, “Hey, check this guy out before you…”  You know, “Before…”   You know, “If the party wants to do this, great.  But I didn’t do my job.”  They probably would deny that, but, I mean, that’s what I think, sort of, was going on.  Was how — “Give me one more chance to do my job.”  And we gave it to them.

Q:              Well, you’ve done a great job for us and for all the people who will read and watch this interview.  Thanks, so much.  This has been enormously interesting and helpful.

TRIPPI:       Well, thank you.

Q:              What a gift of your time and engagement.  Thank you. [01:49:00]

Joe Trippi Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 14 October 2013, accessed at

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