Transcription – Joe Trippi Interview

Q:              Who did you think it would come down to, if all went well?

TRIPPI:       Well, the problem with a multicandidate field like that is, you can’t depend on — it’s not a — how do you put it?  It’s not like you can pick your opponents or anything.  You’ve got to do what you have to do to get to your 37.  And you can’t count [01:08:00] on the other candidates making all the right decisions or doing everything based on rationality or any of that kind of stuff.  And you see this in multicandidate campaigns, not just for president, but for governor or anything else.  So, what we — you know, probably Kerry, because Kerry — well, what happened was, Kerry had gone over — had — people forget, had bailed out of Iowa and gone to New Hampshire — basically had decided he was gonna go up to New Hampshire and wait for us.  And at the last minute — not last minute, but wrote a $7 million check.   He was broke.  He wrote a $7 million check to his campaign to fund Iowa, and come back.  We thought — we nev– we didn’t think he’d — I mean, no one, I think, on the planet thought the guy was gonna write a $7 million check to come back in Iowa.  That was probably the thing that changed the dynamics of the race, because we thought Kerry’s done. [01:09:00] We’re — it’s — and we can win Iowa.  We’ll go fight him in New Hampshire.  At that time — point, he writes a $7 million check, goes back into Iowa, and at the same time, what we don’t know is, all of those campaigns — all of them — Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards — are on a morning conference call — all three of those campaigns are on a morning conference call, coordinating a strategy to take out Howard Dean:  “we stop them now, or — and then we’ll fight between us about who gets the nomination.  But we’re gonna kill him now.”   And so, that’s one dynamic that’s going on.  So, Kerry’s coming back in.  The three of them are doing — are coordinating — which, if they were independent expenditures, would be illegal.  But it’s OK (laughs) if you’re three campaigns and you’re trying to stop one guy. [01:10:00] But, basically, yeah, the establishment of the party had decided they were going to — they couldn’t let this — whatever this was — this decentralized thing.  They weren’t going to let it become the nominee of the party.  And certainly none of the three who wanted to be the nominee were interested in doing that.  And then, the other thing that really did it was, Gephardt’s only — he had one Iowa — and I was there — in ’88.  I helped him win Iowa.  Gephardt has to win Iowa.  If he doesn’t win Iowa, there’s no — I mean, there’s just — his candidacy is over.  He has to win it.  And so, he’s deci– we’ve gone by him.  We — that means he’s got to go kill us.  I mean, he has to kill Dean or he’s got no — his… I mean, we’re talking about somebody who ran for president in ’87-’88, wins Iowa, sits back for, [01:11:00] let’s see — ’92, ’96 — sits back for — what is that, 16 years?  Waits for 16 years to take his one last shot for president.  And the guy who — and this freaky internet campaign goes by him.  So, he decides, “I’m gonna kill that guy.”  And, literally, what they did was, they pulled a grenade and hugged us.  They went af– they went negative on — hard negative on television.  When you do that, by the way, generally what happens is, the guy you hit loses votes, you lose votes, and the votes go somewhere.  They never come back — they never really go back — in a multicandidate race, they rarely go to the guy who’s — who shot. [01:12:00] So, essentially, Gephardt was throwing in the towel.  I mean, he was doing the only thing he could do to go by us, to have any shot.  But, at the same, knew it was murder/suicide.  And so, we kept swinging back, but the way we’d swing back is, “All three of them voted for the war.”  In other words, we didn’t say, “Dick Gephardt,” because it would take his pro-war votes and spread them to the other two.  So, it, in a way, basic– and then, we made mistakes too.  I mean, we gaffed a coup– I mean, I gaffed, the governor gaffed a couple of times, in that last couple of weeks.  And, you know, people forget, we took third in Iowa.  I mean, the scream was — that — I mean, there was a reason the scream could even happen, and that’s because we had just lost [01:13:00] — you know, lost.  So, the — there’s sort of a misconception of the speech on the night of Iowa ended the campaign, or put us in the death throes.  Now, there were a lot of other things going on.  That certainly didn’t help.  Don’t get me wrong.  But it wasn’t — the mythology of what that thing became is not really… We were in — there was an event — again, sort of, one of those first — your first-congressional-race mistake.  A guy — an old, seventy-five-year-old guy had — at a town meeting, had said that — about — I think about 15 days out, had said to Howard, in the meeting — stood up at a town hall and said, “I’ve got a question.  Why do you Democrats just come here and say nothing?  All you do is attack George Bush, say bad things about George Bush.  You never say any– you say you’re against the war.  You say what you’re against, but you’re never for anything.”  I don’t know who we hear that about today, but anyway… (laughs) But, [01:14:00] “Why?” And Howard goes, “You know, I understand you’re a Republican, so — and I will answer your question if you just put a question mark at the end of it, and ask me a question.  I’ll be happy to answer.  I respect you.”  And the guy goes, “I just asked you a question.  Why do you Democrats just come in here and say bad things about George Bush, and say you’re against the war, and never say you’re for anything?  Why?”  And Howard goes… Now, at this point, if you’ve had a couple of races for Congress — at this point you say, “Thank you.  Charlie, do you have a question?”  No, Howard, for the third time, says, “Sir, I know you’re a Republican.  But if you want to ask me a question, I’ll be happy to answer it.  I really am.  I respect you.  I want to answer your question.”  This guy goes, “I’ve asked you the same question twice.  You — you know, why do you Democrats…?  You hear this?  Why do you Democrats,” you know, “do this?”  (laughter) And Howard says, [01:15:00] “Shut up and sit down.  You had your turn. It’s my turn now.”  Now, what happened that night was, every — even the fairest TV station in the world is not going to show the 17 minutes of that — of how you got to that moment.  And so, what happened on — in — on Iowa television for the next several days, was Iowans watching their news or waking up to their morning to a clip of a 75-year-old man with a stunned look on his face, and Howard Dean saying, “Shut up and sit down.  You had your turn.  It’s my turn now.”  And what — so, you’ve got to ask just how you go from thirty-seven thousand ones to — in our own dat– [01:16:00] our own polling, we were starting — we fell, like, 10 points in a couple of days.  And so, we know… Now, by the way, you don’t go out and hold a press conference and say, “We’re in a lot of trouble.  We could lose Iowa.”  No, you’ve got to go out and stick your chin out there and keep and… You know, but we knew we were taking on water.  I did one.  Oh, man, I can’t — I was on Crossfire, and Paul Begala says — this is, like, I think, the Sun– the — two or three days before the — or maybe four days before the caucuses.  Paul Begala says, “Wow, you’ve got Al Gore.  You got this endorsement.  You’ve got that endorsement.  Who’s next?  Jimmy Carter?”  Well, I knew we were gonna go to Plains, Georgia, that Sunday, and worship at Carter’s church with — he was — as his guest.  He wasn’t gonna endorse us.  I also knew that.  You know, he had made it clear. [01:17:00] But he… And so, I said, on live television, “Come to Plains, Georgia, with us on Sunday and find out.”  As soon as I said it — I mean, as soon as it came out, I want — I was, like, on air.  You can go watch the tape.  I’m trying to like, (laughter) “Please take those words back.  I am an idiot.”  But the whole press — before I was even off the air, the breaking news — Howard Dean is going to Plains, Georgia, to get Jimmy Carter’s endorsement.  Well, he — we go down to Plains, Georgia.  Carter walks into the press room before the event and says, “I just want you to understand, I’m not endorsing him.  I didn’t do this.”  We’re — it’s like, you know, we’re — now, that Sunday is like a day or two before the — I mean, before the caucuses.  So, like, all I’m saying is, we had this — I’ve — that was probably the biggest gaffe I’ve had in my life in a presidential cam– [01:18:00] Out of all seven, that’s when I chose to do it.  I mean, or that’s when my… You know, so, I’m just saying, like, these — all these little — I mean, these forces — the Gephardt campaign deciding, “We’ve got to kill this guy.”  The other three campaigns coordinating what they’re doing.  The most amazing thing that happened that no one’s really — is, on the Sa– the weekend before the caucuses, 16 — every Dean support– think about it.  Every campaign has done the same thing.  They’ve all called everybody in the state, or talked to everybody in the state, and they all have their ones and their Dean people identified.  And we have our ones and Kerry people… Well, the Dean camp– the Dean people all got 16 robo-calls the day — on a Saturday, all — repeatedly, every half hour or every 45 minutes, your phone rang.  And if you were a Howard Dean supporter in the state of Iowa, your — the ph– you picked up the phone, and it — [01:19:00] the robo-call said this was the Howard Dean campaign.  “And we just wanted to make sure you were still voting for Howard at the caucuses.”  Well, the first time, you might have said, “Sure, yeah.”  The 13th time, the 14th time, the Howard Dean campaign called you and said, “Hey, it’s just us again.”   You — it’s just a — and it’s the same recording — the same — 16 times.  By the time those people got the real Howard Dean call — the one real Howard Dean call — like, the next day, or later that day, saying, “Hey, this is the Howard…”  They’re — they had pulled their phones out of the wall, or were cursing us for — “This is the 18th time you’ve called me today.  I’m not voting for Howard Dean.”  (makes sound of slamming phone) So now, who did that?  Who knows?  But, my point is — I mean, for all I know, it could have been the RNC, forget about blaming a Democratic oppon– the Kerry campaign. [01:20:00] But my point is, all these things were all happening, including our own self-inflicted wounds.  I’m not begrudging any of that.  And that’s how we come in third in Iowa.