Transcription – Joe Trippi Interview

Q:              Then another really innovative use of the internet by the Dean campaign was in raising money — in fact, raising more money than any other candidate was.  And, I guess, in the fourth quarter of ’03, raising more money than any other candidate ever had.  Is that right?

TRIPPI:       Yeah.  Yeah, we — Bill Clinton had set the record of $10 million in a quarter.  Now, gosh, does that seem so ridiculous or what, with what Obama’s been able to do?  But he had set the record at $10 million — raised $10 million in a quarter.  And he did not set that record in 1992.  He set that record in 1996, running for reelection against Dole.  So, he’s a sitting president of the United States [00:51:00] — raised $10 million in a quarter.  And that was — I mean, that was, like, the most money anybody had ever — in the Democratic Party at least, had ever raised in a quarter.  And we — I think it was June of 2003 — so I think it was the second quarter — but somewhere in there we —

Q:              It was the second quarter.

TRIPPI:       Yeah, we blew through it in seven days.  It was the last seven days of the quarter that really kicked it in, and we raised $15 million that quarter.  So we — I mean, we just blew through Bill Clinton’s record.  And we, by that — at that point, frankly, were somebody that most people had never heard… He — no — most people heard about Howard Dean at — because of that quarter.  I mean, because of what happened, the exc– no one could believe that this nascent internet-campaign guy [00:52:00] had blown out Bill Clinton’s record in June of 2007.  That’s when ABC and CBS and CNN and the LA Times, and the New York Times, and everybody went, “Something big is happening here.”  And, of course, that fueled more people saying, “What’s that?” and “Let’s go check it out” and “Let’s give him money.”  And that — and then we were off to the races.  In fact, the — probably one of the biggest moments of the campaign, at that point, was the Sunday before that quarter — seven days before that quarter was — or so, before that ended, was the Sunday that Howard Dean went on Meet the Press with Russert.  And by all accounts, blew it.  I mean, by all — I mean, if you go back and look at all the rep– [00:53:00] the mainstream media reviews of that, just thought he had, you know, stuck his foot in his mouth 10 times, and had blown the interview.  And they, literally — everybody in the press was writing us off the next day.  Monday morning, you couldn’t pick up a paper without Howard Dean, you know — who is this guy?

Q:              Not — yeah, not ready for prime time.

TRIPPI:       Not ready for prime time.  And I had, the day before, thought that could happen.  I mean, that I wanted some protective… That, look, we’re either — what I wanted to set up for was, he hits a homerun out of that.  I mean, everybody says it was an amazing interview.  So, why don’t we, for the first time, really send out an email saying — so that it would arrive Sunday morning, and say, “Now, more than ever, we need to give — we need you to give us money.  We need your help.” [00:54:00] And instead of it playing off this homerun interview, we’re getting trashed everywhere, but one hundred and fifty-nine thousand people had just gotten an email.  Most of them probably didn’t watch the interview.  Got an email saying, “Right now, more than ever, we need your help.  Send us money.  We’re getting towards the end of the quarter here.”  And that day, the Sunday, happened — turned out to be the biggest number of contributions and the largest amount of contributions that we’d ever received in the entire campaign.  So, Monday, while the press is saying he’s a has-been, he’s gone, I’m releasing numbers saying we just had — are you crazy?  This is the big difference between you elite guys who think you know everything and the American people.  They just gave us more — you think we’re done.  They’re giving us more money than we’ve ever gotten in the entire campaign, which then started the — [00:55:00] that last week really strong. And we had another bunch of things planned out and we ended up breaking Bill Clinton’s record that quarter.

Q:              Substantively, was he ready for prime time?  Was he ready to address the issues that he would have to as president?

TRIPPI:       Well, Howard — yes, but Howard was a different kind of candidate.  I mean, you know, everybody you’ve seen — like, John McCain is another one — I mean, he’s sort of got a maverick, tells-it-like-it-is… You know, I — McCain has changed over the years, I think, and lost some of that — I mean, in terms of the way people think of or look at him.  But that early McCain, where, you know, he would tell it like it is — well, guess what?  You’re gonna get a guy who doesn’t — you know, isn’t watching every word, isn’t being extremely careful and cautious about everything he says.  It’s part of the reason they like them.  But, yeah, you’re gonna get in tr– [00:56:00] you’re also gonna get into trouble.  But Howard was a — I mean, that’s what he was.  He didn’t watch every — he didn’t watch every single word he said.  I think people find that, you know, refreshing.  But — and it made him different than the rest of the candidates.  It also made us — yeah, he’s gonna gaffe.  I mean, that’s just the — you know, you can’t have one without the other.  You can’t have, sort of, a spontaneous candidate who’s going to tell you want he’s really thinking, and not — you know, and not have what the world thinks is a mistake.  He — I remember once he went out and — early on — I’ll never forget it  (laughs) — he went out and said that if Bill Clinton can become America’s first black president — because, by then, it was well-known that the African-American community [00:57:00] viewed Bill Clinton as the first African-American president.  I mean, they — people said that in the press, even major (inaudible).  So, my guy goes out one day and says, “If Bill Clinton can become the nation’s first black president, I want to be America’s first gay president.”  And I’m like, “Whoa, Howard, we — you can never…”  You know, and he meant it.  I don’t — I mean, he meant that he had signed the first civil-unions law, that he wanted gays to have the same rights as everybody else.  But I think most TV networks would have run that tape over and over again, and showed you what a — how incapable this man was of being president of the United States.  Well, was it?  I don’t… Well, maybe for those — for 10 years ago, yeah.  But 2013?  I don’t know.  But he — that’s where he was.  I mean, he was a guy who [00:58:00] said what he really thought, until somebody like me grabbed him and said — explained to him why he shouldn’t say he wanted to be America’s first gay president.  So, after four weeks of slipping up and saying that, he would stop.  But, I mean, what is that?  I don’t — that’s what I’m saying.  I think it was — part of it, too — what people really don’t realize, I think, about the — just the amazing — how amazingly capable he really was, was, essentially, that was the first time he’d ever run for anything.  I mean, look, it’s Vermont.  I mean, let’s, like, face real– The governor picks him to be his lieutenant governor.  So, he’s running with an incumbent governor for lieutenant governor.  He becomes lieutenant governor.  The governor dies while he’s cleaning his pool one day, because he had a heart attack.  Our lieutenant governor [00:59:00] becomes a governor.  The governor of Vermont — not a place where Republicans tend to do very well.  When he runs for reel– for election in his own right, he doesn’t have much of a fight to be the governor of Vermont.  I mean, I’m not saying he never had a campaign.  I’m just saying, come on.  I mean, we’re not talking about a, you know, massive, bloody political battle.  So, in a lot of ways, Howard Dean decides, at his first campaign — I mean, real dogfight political campaign — is not for city clerk, not for city council, not for mayor, not for governor of Vermont.  It really isn’t.  His first contested race for anything in his life, really, is president of the United States.  So, does he make some mistakes that the guy running for Congress in the tough fight for the first time would make?  Sure, [01:00:00] of course.  But that — I mean, that’s… You know, but was he great governor?  He was a great governor.  They guy could have — I think would have done a good job at running the country.  I’m just saying that the two don’t necessarily mesh — that a candidate who makes mistakes on the stump wasn’t going to — isn’t going to be a good president.  He really was — the lights were on, the cameras were rolling all the time, really for the first time ever.  It’s not — you know, it’s not even like being governor of New York, I mean, where you’ve got the New York City media on you all the time — I mean, Andrew Cuomo.  It’s Vermont.  I mean, it’s real.  He really ran the state.  But it’s a totally different environment.  And then, all of a sudden, you’re out there, and you’ve got… I mean, we were on — we had a 737 with the entire press corps flying behind us.  That — first of all, that’s crazy enough.  I’ve done it with Gephardt, [01:01:00] when we went from winning Iowa to the 737. That change is a — and that amount of focus on you is crazy enough for somebody who’s been like a Joe Biden, to somebody who’s been, you know, in it quite a bit, because of their career course.  Howard had never been in anything like that before.  And, frankly, most of the people in the campaign had never been on a (inaudible).  I was the only person in the campaign who’d ever sort of been in that environment, and knew how, you know, crazy it could be.  But, for him, I think, he was — he showed amazing ability to handle it.  That doesn’t mean he didn’t make mistakes.  It doesn’t mean he didn’t gaffe.  Obviously, he did from time to time.  But it’s kind of like, I don’t know how — he was going to learn by doing.  You’re not gonna — there’s nothing that prepares you for that, other than [01:02:00] being — having it thrown at you. And, yeah, it can — and that’s one of the reasons, by the way, when you’re done with one you never want to do another one, because the amount of pressure… When that thing come off you, it’s like the entire — it’s like you’ve been carrying the entire weight of a building on your shoulders.  And when it’s off, you never want to put that back on you.

Q:              What was his —

TRIPPI:       A staff position, I mean.