Transcription – Mike Shannon Interview

Q:                    Well, one of the things that distinguished the Bush campaign both elections from his opponents was having a team of people who were really committed to George W. Bush and kept that commitment [00:10:00] through the second — through the reelect, running against candidates who basically hired guns to run their campaigns.  And I wonder, in 2000 and 2004, I mean was it the assumption that this is the group that is going to be running things between now and 2004, and during 2004; therefore, this team can start thinking about what’s that going to be like.

SHANNON:      You know, some of the main players, I think, knew that they would be involved again.  And in particular, both Ken Mehlman and Matthew Dowd, who were two of the central leaders of our 2004 effort, I think had a sense from 2001 to 2004 that they were going to be the leaders of the effort.  And so they began thinking very strategically.  Of course, Ken went into the White House and ran political affairs, [00:11:00] and a lot of us went on the White House staff, and though we thought about 2004, that felt like a long time away.  And I went on the White House staff, worked in the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, and worked on coordinating public opinion research and message research to help shape the message around the president’s priorities.  I ended up leaving the White House — of course, well, I mean, just pause and saying of course, and then 9/11 happened, and politicking in campaigns kind of fades, you know, from view.  And I remember the day after 9/11, Karl told the staff, he said we worked so hard in the 2000 campaign for this moment in time.  Politics is really going to recede now.  But you can all be proud; you’re going to be asked to do different things that [00:12:00] aren’t in your day to day job responsibilities.  Whether it’s writing letters to people who’ve been affected by this, or helping coordinate events.  But politics are going to recede for a time, but that’s why we worked so hard in 2000.  And I ended up, for about three or four months, just writing messages to people who’d been affected by 9/11.  Some of the memorials, some of the heroes of 9/11, the non-military, non-first responder heroes.  And then I ended up leaving to go to business school.  And I — when I left, I didn’t have the 2004 campaign on my mind.  I was kind of, had done my campaign, had been on the White House staff, was headed off to business school.  And one of my mentors, who’s since passed away, had told me that campaign, White House, and then if you want to go to the private sector, is a really good path.  And he always said, you know, beware of second terms.  [00:13:00]  (laughter)  So, I went off to business school and didn’t have any intention of returning to the 2004 campaign.  And then, I was doing an internship down in Mexico City for a management consulting firm, and got a call from Matthew Dowd saying he was going to be the chief strategist for the campaign, and —

Q:                    When was this?

SHANNON:      This was in the summer of 2003.  And he said, “I’d like you to come be one of my deputies and be a strategist on the team and run the media buying.”  I said, “Well, that’s great, but I’m in the middle of business school.”  And he said, “I know.”  And I said, “Well, when do you need me, because I’m about to start my second year.”  And he said, “Well, I’d need you at the latest on January 1, 2004, for the full year of the campaign.”  So I thought about it for a day or two, and came to the conclusion that you’re not going to get a lot of calls like that.  I might not ever get a call like that again.  [00:14:00]  And so, called him back and said, “I’ll be there January 1,” and I went back — I was in business school at the Kellogg School at Northwestern, and went back for the fall, and didn’t quite have the motivation that I’d had the first year, because I knew I was going to be heading off to a presidential campaign.  And in December of that year, packed up with my fiancée, and we drove to Washington, DC, and I jumped on the campaign just like we talked about January 1.

Q:                    That was, I guess roughly about the time when the conventional wisdom had become Bush is going to be running against Howard Dean.  And I’m thinking about something you said earlier; my guess is you were the youngest person on the 2000 campaign, and therefore kind of got some things about the kind of web-based and other electronic communication.  [00:15:00]  You seem to be the guy who figured all that out, or at least in his campaign who figured all that out.  Did you think that running against Dean was going to — did that — that Bush was going to be running against Dean, and if so, would that have been a — presented a particular challenge?

SHANNON:      We — like everybody, we thought Governor Dean was the leading contender, that we were planning for all contingencies, and saw John Kerry, and John Edwards, and Richard Gephardt as all viable players.  I think, you know, Howard Dean’s campaign was an insurgency, and I think we’ve seen over time, whether it’s the Left or the Right, insurgencies thrive online, and that was one — probably the first moment where we saw the power of the internet at fueling an insurgency, an insurgent candidate that nobody [00:16:00] really knew about, nobody thought was a contender, and then all of a sudden they’re leading a race.  And we’ve seen what President Obama did with his online campaign, but we’ve seen it with the Tea Parties, and I think probably the first candidate to do that was Jesse Ventura in the late ’90s, at the advent of the internet.  We didn’t — we weren’t —

Q:                    Running for governor of Minnesota?

SHANNON:      That’s right.

Q:                    And winning.

SHANNON:      That’s right.  Running for governor of Minnesota, real early in the life of the internet, using it as an online organizing tool.  So, we were certainly — I mean we were watching Governor Dean, watching that insurgency, preparing for that possibility.  We had planned for 2004, from a digital perspective, to evolve dramatically from 2000.  Of course, technology had changed dramatically since then in a lot of ways, from [00:17:00] an internet perspective, it’s I think important to remember, there — at that time, there was no Facebook, or if there were Facebook, I guess it started in 2004, it was still an early idea at Harvard.  There was no Twitter, there was no iPhones, no app stores, so it was kind of an in between moment.  Online video was coming to the forefront.  Email marketing had changed dramatically.  And just people’s use of computers had changed dramatically since 2000.  So as we — you know, as we — I think we were planning for Dean, of course, until his scream.  And it became clear that Senator Kerry was going to be the likely nominee, but we had — you know, we had oppo research books and play books this thick for all the possible opposition, and that’s [00:18:00] — it’s one of the luxuries of being an incumbent.  Not only all this planning we’re talking about, and we will talk about, that was done in advance of the 2004 race, but you have time to kind of sit back, watch the other side fight it out, and as they’re doing that, they kind of beat each other up, and also you’re able to kind of start building your strategy and your case so that when that nominee is named, you’re ready to come out of the gates fast, which we did.