Transcription – Robert Shrum Interview

Q:              And Gephardt?

SHRUM:     I thought Dick’s time had passed.  That he was not going to be the nominee, number one.  Number two, [00:07:00] that this notion that somehow or other, because of what had happened in Iowa 16 years before, he had great strength in Iowa, I didn’t believe that.  I have a theory about the Iowa caucuses, at least for Democrats.  I mean, they’re pretty good predictors and pretty reliable predictors of — in the Democratic Party.  And my theory is that around November, and this is kind of what happened to Dean, around November, people start asking the question that’s going to dominate their choice of the caucuses.  In 2008, the question was, who most favors change, or who stands for change?  And the answer was Barack Obama, not Hillary Clinton.  And in 2004, the question which Kerry could never explicitly articulate, he had to demonstrate it, was, who has the best chance to beat Bush?  Because Democrats so much wanted to beat Bush.  And I thought the answer to that question would be Kerry.  [00:08:00]

Q:              Why?

SHRUM:     His experience, the fact that he had national security credentials that he could carry into an election, that I had seen him campaign in Massachusetts and he was a terrific campaigner and a terrific debater.  I mean, we had all these debates in ’96 with Bill Weld, and Kerry was fabulous in them.  So, these are not easy choices, but in the end, it was a clear choice for me.

Q:              Going with Kerry?

SHRUM:     Yes.

Q:              Tell us —

SHRUM:     I thought he should be president.

Q:              Tell us about John —

SHRUM:     And by the way, if you watch him as secretary of state now, you can get some indication of why I thought he should be president.

Q:              Tell us about John Kerry:  what kind of person he was, what kind of political leader he was?

SHRUM:     Well, you know, there’s a story, maybe apocryphal, about JFK, that after the ’60 election, [00:09:00] Time magazine described the Kennedy campaign as coruscatingly brilliant, and he walked in one day and said, “I just want to tell you guys, change 60,000 votes that were coruscatingly stupid.”  And one of the things that happens, if you don’t win, is you tend to get caricatured.  Even if it’s that close, even if 60,000 or 70,000 votes changing in Ohio would have made Kerry president, he is — he’s got a great sense of humor, he’s very open and quite willing to hear arguments from people, he’s a politician who understands that you actually don’t want a bunch of people around you who say yes to everything.  After all, you can always agree with yourself.  You want people who you respect who are going to present you with an argument, say, “This is what we think you should do.”  He is very, very, very calm in a crisis and when things are, you know, most of the time, when things are very tough, John comes [00:10:00] to the right decision.  And I mean, we had a bump in the road in — a considerable bump in the road in late August/early September of 2004, when he wasn’t quite that calm.  But most of the time, he was incredibly calm.  I mean, we were written off in October, November, and December of 2003.  And I remember we would take these trips up to New Hampshire in a van, and I went on a lot of them.  And, you know, got almost no press coverage because suddenly looked like, you know, Kerry was gone.  And through that whole period, he made — he remained very steady and made three very tough decisions, in addition to making a change in his campaign.  He made the decision first not to accept federal funding, and [00:11:00] that was critical.  And we weren’t, at that point, going to be able to raise the money on the internet because we hadn’t paid the attention we should have to the internet.  John and Teresa kept saying, “The internet is critical,” and there was enormous resistance in parts of the campaign to that idea.  So, he was going to have to, going outside of federal funding, he was going to have to finance his campaign by taking a mortgage on his house on Beacon Hill.  And that’s what he did — that was the first critical decision.  Second critical decision was not to attack Howard Dean on television.  [Mark] Mellman’s polling showed a series of arguments that rated around 30% of people said they were less likely to vote for Dean because of one of these attacks.  Well, 30% arguments don’t get you very far, and you pay a price in any event, in a contest, the Democratic contest, intra-party, in a place like Iowa, for going negative.  [00:12:00]  And that was a really hotly argued proposition inside the campaign.  I said, “We’ve got to meet the voters where they’re going to be, and where they’re going to be is who can beat Bush.  And we — If we attack Dean on television, we’re just going to make room for Edwards, for example, to move up the middle and win.”  And he made that decision.  And the third decision was to basically abandon New Hampshire in January, until after the Iowa caucuses.  That was a really hard decision for John because he was well known there, he was well liked there, although our polling numbers were — in terms of who did you favor for president — had fallen apart, his favorability was still very high.  And the premise on which we made this decision was that if we won Iowa, which I thought we could, or even if we came second in Iowa, [00:13:00] we could slingshot into New Hampshire.  Now, you could never say that.  You could just say, “We’re focused on Iowa right now; we’ll be in New Hampshire right after Iowa.”  The one thing you can’t do is tell voters in New Hampshire that they have to vote for you because you just won Iowa.  That was Obama’s mistake, actually, in 2008.  He kept mentioning Iowa over and over and over again.  When John got off the plane, the morning after we had won Iowa, he had one big rule in his head:  thank Iowa in that first speech, and never mention Iowa again, and tell people in New Hampshire that they were the ones who were going to decide.  So, he’s a — he would — if I — when I wasn’t out there, he would call me and he would say, “Could I sneak back to New Hampshire for a night?”  And I’d say, “No, I think that would be a very bad idea.”  And he’d say, sort of grumpily say, “OK.”