Transcription – Robert Shrum Interview

Q:              Well, we’re close to the end, here.  [01:24:00]

SHRUM:     I’m sorry I’m drinking.  For anybody who looks at this, sorry I’m drinking the Diet Pepsi.  (laughter)

Q:              What did the Bush campaign, what did they do well?

SHRUM:     The convention.  Putting it in New York, having it basically on the anniversary of 9/11, not literally, but basically.  Focusing as heavily as they could on national security as a message.  They did a terrific job on the flip-flop argument once they had the $87 billion line, and they were very agile about it.  I mean, you know, when we were in Nantucket in August and we were doing one of these early informal debate preps, Kerry took one of his exercise breaks [01:25:00] and Mary Beth said, “John, whatever you do, don’t go” —

Q:              Windsurfing.

SHRUM:     — “don’t go windsurfing.”  And he came back an hour and a half, two hours later, I said, “Did you go windsurfing?”  And he said, “But there was no one around.”  I said, “There’s always someone around, and you are, like, one of the two or three most recognizable people in America.”

Q:              So, you all saw the ad?

SHRUM:     Oh, yeah, we got —

Q:              He just thought nobody had been there to see the windsurfing?

SHRUM:     Yeah, yeah.  But they were very agile at stuff like that.  So, they, you know, and they did a very good job — I mean, I hate — they did a very effective job — I cannot use the word “good” here — in exploiting bigotry against gays to increase voter turnout in some critical states.

Q:              Now, are there — you’ve been involved in campaigns for, I guess, over 30 years before this one.  Did presidential campaigning change in any fundamental ways in [01:26:00] 2004?

SHRUM:     Yeah, the rise of the internet and social media, you know, it was the internet, then.  I mean, Twitter was, you know, wasn’t a factor, and, you know, Facebook was just beginning.  But the internet was a very, very powerful transformative tool.  It enabled you to raise money.  And it was enabling one other thing that was only primitive, then.  It was enabling a kind of two-way communication in which your supporters could actually think, that they weren’t just observers, but you know, that you could talk to them but they could talk back.  And I actually used to occasionally go down to the place where we had all the internet stuff and read some of the comments and messages that people sent in.  It’s much more sophisticated now.  I mean, you — you know, somebody could send a comment to the Obama campaign saying they were really worried about the Keystone Pipeline, [01:27:00] and the next thing you knew, they’d get a statement on the Keystone Pipeline.  You know, the logarithms have so developed and you can find stuff.  So, I think that was a huge change.  Some things remain the same.  The fight to define what the race is about is really critical.  And you know, there’s no micro-targeting or social media that can make up for that if you don’t do it.  I mean, that’s why the Republicans have a problem now, because they think, “Oh, if we could just technically do what the Democrats would do, we’ll be fine.”  Well, no, they won’t be fine until they figure out how to deal with their divisions, for example, on social issues, or until they’re — because they’re so out of step, generally, with the country on this stuff, [01:28:00] and with younger voters.  So, that hasn’t changed.  The power of television is very interesting.  I think the biggest change there is you had only, you know, in 1960, you had three networks.  If someone had come to Walter Cronkite and said, “Look, there’s this group called the John Birch Society and they’re holding a press conference where they’re going to say that Eisenhower was an agent of the Communist conspiracy and Kennedy’s a socialist, and we’re going to send a camera crew,” he would have looked up and said, “You’re fired.”  So, there were media filters, where now, with the multiplicity of channels, with the impact of something like Fox News, for example, which promoted the Swift Boats over and over and over again, that’s a big change.  You don’t have a common base of knowledge upon which people are making decisions.  So, you know, Pat Moynihan had a line, “Everybody’s entitled to their own opinion, but no one’s entitled to their own facts.”  [01:29:00]  Today, everybody can get their own facts, and that’s true not just about presidential campaigns, that’s true about governing.  You know, it doesn’t matter how many truth boxes or whatever the newspapers establish; the fact of the matter is, is, you know, well, what did Neil Newhouse, who was Romney’s pollster, say?  He said, “We don’t care about fact-checkers.”  And you know, he shouldn’t have said it, but that was the truth.  They didn’t care about fact checkers.  So, the — You know, I could go on about this, but that, that’s a huge change in politics.  And the other big thing that’s changed is the competitive map has shrunk radically, you know?  New England, despite Republican attempts to compete in that one congressional district in Maine which has its own electoral vote, has been pretty hopeless, [01:30:00] except under extreme circumstances.  Pennsylvania, by varying margins, can be narrow or wide.  Republicans always talk about they’re going to get it, and they never do.  So, you — you’re — you know, you’re down to maybe 17 competitive states, and that’s where the resources, candidate time is put, and that’s why, for example, if you’re sitting in New York, you never see any of the ads.  If you’re in Jersey, you can see them, South Jersey, because you’ll see Philadelphia ads because the Republicans always, at the end, try to make a feint for it.  In 1960, Kennedy and, you know, the big news was that Nixon competed in some Southern states, which before that had been unattainable for Republicans, and he won some states that you know, Oklahoma, Kennedy got crushed, in part because he was a Catholic.  But it was a much bigger map, and now, it’s a much smaller map.

Q:              Well, [01:31:00] I’m an imperfect interviewer, so if there’s anything I haven’t asked about that is an important part of the story or an interesting part of the story, this is your chance to…

SHRUM:     No.  I mean, you know, listen:  you look back, you know, when I got the letter from you, I thought, “Oh, Lord…”  But you look back on it and you have regret about the end, especially because if not many people in Ohio had changed their minds, or more had voted, Kerry would have been president.  And I also look back on a lot of it with pride.  I mean, pride in Kerry.  I mean, he was so disciplined in those dark days, in October, November, December, into early January, and yeah, I just wish we had won.

Q:              Well, thank you so much, Mr. Shrum.

SHRUM:     Bob.

Q:              Bob.

SHRUM:     Thank you.  [01:32:00]

Q:              Thank you for that, too.

Robert Shrum Interview, Center for Presidential History, Southern Methodist University, The Election of 2004 Collective Memory Project, 11 December 2013, accessed at

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