Transcription – Joe Trippi Interview

Q:              But, meanwhile, when the vote to authorize the use of force occurred — in Iraq, occurred in, I guess, October of ’02, Kerry was voting for it.  Lieberman was voting for it.

TRIPPI:       Right.

Q:              Gephardt was voting for it.  In other words, there was an opening [00:27:00] there among the prospective candidates for the nomination, for somebody who could come in afterward and say this was a huge mistake.  In other words, was this, in part, driven by Dean’s sensing a great issue there, that was waiting to be captured by somebody?

TRIPPI:       No way.

Q:              OK.

TRIPPI:       There was like — the — there was — no polling on the planet would indicate that you should have been against that war.  It was something like 80% of the American people were for it, 20% were against it.  There was — I’m not saying it — that any of the other candidates — Kerry, Edwards, Gephardt — were all for it because of polling.  But I’m just saying that there was no political reason at all for taking that position, or any indications of it.  It was a — [00:28:00] the — just point — you know, just a slam-dunk loser to take that position at the time.

Q:              Even in the Democratic primaries?

TRIPPI:       Yeah.  I mean, in the Democratic primary, obviously, it was a closer call than that.  But you wouldn’t have — uh, you know, again, you’ve got to remember the vast experience that the — or, the like — the only point that people could look back on — and I think this did influence a lot of the reason people voted for that war — was, a lot of Democrats — in fact, almost all Democrats — had voted against the first Gulf War.  And it — as we all know, it was over in a matter of days.  A huge — uh, viewed by the nation as a m– huge success.  And most of those Democrats feel like they [00:29:00] looked — politically, became very vulnerable, and looked like they didn’t know what the hell they were doing, because they had voted against that war.  So, now, you’ve got another Gulf War, another Bush saying we’re gonna go to war.  And I think all of them, or most of them had been in office in 1991 said to themselves, “I’m not gonna make that mistake again.”  And so, the actual impulse within the party, and within officeholders on both sides — I’m not talking about just Democrats — was, “We’ve had a successful Gulf War.  We — you know, this guy’s got weapons of mass destruction, and that’s what intelligence is saying.”   You know, all — and got caught up in that, and said, “I’m not gonna…”  You know, “I’m not gonna get caught on the wrong side of that again.”  And so, this — they believed the intell– I mean, they — the — because of the experience of the first one, [00:30:00] everything leaned — everybody was leaning into the second one, whether for political reasons or because, just policy-wise, they thought they’d learned a lesson and that it would be another short one, etc.  And so, the most dangerous position you could take, even if it was a… I mean, think about this.  Even if there was a primary — I mean, in — within the primaries, a large constituency in the Democratic Party that was against the war, well, that — we’d seen that before.  In 1991, almost all grassroots Democrats were against that first Gulf War.  Guess where they all were five days after the war? Everybody in the country, all of a sudden, “Well, you know, I was for it.” Well, except for the guys that had voted against it, who were in the Senate or, or in Congress… So, the most dangerous place you could be, probably — the most courageous place you could be [00:31:00] would be to be against that war, given where the nation was already.  Again, the nation — one of the reasons I think the nation was 80% for it, 20% against, was because of the success of Gulf War I.  It influenced a lot of people — the American people’s thinking about Gulf War II, and a lot of our leaders.  And so, you — there — you could have taken the position he took, which was against it, before it even started.  Al Gore took that position.  He wrote a — we — it actually influenced me quite a bit.  He had written or given a speech on what was wrong with the doctrine of preventive war, and I had read it.  I remember sending Dean a copy of it, right after we met — right after he had given that speech at the DNC.  I sent him a copy of Gore’s speech and said, “You need to read this.”  I mean, it [00:32:00] really lays out a lot of the issues of what’s, what’s wrong with this thing.  And he… “Preemptive war” was the doctrine, I think.  And he read it, and, you know, we made that a major point of our campaign.  And then, as the war didn’t — you know, it happened, and it wasn’t quite over in 14 days, and it wasn’t the same experience that the country had had in the first one, I think it started to grow.  I mean, the voices against the war started to grow, and we — that, along with a lot of other things.  He — Har– uh, Dean had signed the first civil-unions law for gays in the… And — which was a huge, controversial thing.  People thought we were — that that, on its face, was a — [00:33:00] made you, you know, not a viable general-election candidate.  So, you — you know, look, you can’t, years later, not even 10 years later — roughly 10 years later, gay marriage is, in multiple states, legal.  You know, so all these things were things that we were — really, that campaign was leading the country in — you know, on a number of issues that were highly controversial, that most people thought, you know, the combination of them, or even one of them — those positions would be enough to make you — to disqualify you in the ability to carry the — a campaign, you know, out of the batter’s box, let alone to first or second base, or to become the frontrunner.  So, I mean, that’s a — [00:34:00] there were quite a few of those. We were really, I think, a courageous campaign that was leading on a lot of important issues, and, if you look around today, won on a lot of them.  I mean, the campaign didn’t win, but I think that a lot of the reason the country is where it’s at today is because of the voice of that campaign, and Howard Dean, and what the staff did.

Q:              Talk about joining the campaign — how that came about, and was there an internet presence worth talking about when you did?  Was Dean interested in that as an innovation?

TRIPPI:       Yeah, I mean, I joined the campaign, and it was — people just have no — it — today, everything that — is, like, so simple.  And I remember I joined the campaign and [00:35:00] everything that… Like, the best example I can give you is, I wanted to put a link on our website to, the — which was the site we used to organize the concentric-circle campaign.  And the campaign manager at the time, Rick Ritter, wanted to check with the campaign attorneys to see whether it was legal or not to put a link to a website on our website.  It took two weeks of, every day, fighting with the attorneys.  They believed that would be an in-kind contribution.  In other words, if I linked to [00:36:00] and said, “Hey, people who support us, go there.  Have meetings,” that that would be a service that was providing to the campaign for free, which would be an in-kind contribution.  And I’m like, “You’ve got to be kidding me.  This is a link.”  You know, it’s, like, Internet 101. You — everybody links to — you know, you link to the people who blog about you.  You link to this cool website.  You link to this picture.  That’s what you do.  You can’t — it — and it took me two weeks to get just a link on our website to  Everything was a huge battle, not because people were trying to maliciously stop everything, but because it had never been done before.  No one had ever tried it.  The rules and the regulations were not written for the internet age.  The other — one of the great ones was, the Federal Election Commission [00:37:00] required that all donations — all contributions — be reported on paper.  So, what was that for?  Well, that was for a period — a time when you mailed a check to me; I took the check out of an envelope; we wrote, you know, “Joe Trippi gave $500.  His address is…”  Into a thing, because we — you — you’re only getting, like, maybe five hundred checks in the last week, maybe a thousand checks in the last week.  Well, no one — the FEC, when they wrote that reg, never envisioned a day or a time when a campaign — and Howard Dean’s would be one — would get one hundred and fifty-nine thousand donations in the last 24 hours or 48 hours of the filing period, all electronically, on the internet, using their credit cards. [00:38:00] So, how do you possibly make that regul– I mean, how do you not violate that regulation?  And w– if you’ll go back — you know, people look — we had those pictures of — we picked the two smallest women in the campaign.   And we’d get a huge dolly with — and we’d print the thing up, and we’d have them rolling them into the FEC office, right?  So, you — the — and the press would cover it, like, the amazing Dean campaign with its report, which was how we, at least, used the ridiculous reg to at least create, you know, some PR, some press.  But it was insane.  So, what — the whole thing with –in the first, early weeks, and early month of that campaign, was literally fighting every day — not your opponent — not John Kerry, not Dick Gephardt, but just the stasis of the way [00:39:00] things had always been done before.  And in the early day– stages, I was — you kn– at — the only person who, like — I’d walk into the room, they’d all think, you know, I wanted to do a link to a website, and I’m the crazy guy, right? You know, I mean, I’m the one, you know, with law– you know, trying to, like, explain why — how… Today, it’s the guy who’s saying don’t put a link up on your website who would be seen as the crazy guy, right?  The — everybody else would be looking at him like, “Are you out of your mind?  Of course.”  But back then, it was this strange, upside-down — from — to me, it was an upside-down world.  So…