Transcription – Walter Shapiro Interview

Q:              But I think, also, he didn’t start out as the anti-war candidate, did he?   He was the governor who knew how to run —

SHAPIRO:   He was the governor who knew how to — my — I don’t think I’m giving away his secret.  When my friend Mandy Grunwald, who — a media consultant for Hillary, both in 2008 and 2006 for the Senate race, but was working for Joe Lieberman in 2004.  But she was also Paul Wellstone’s media consultant.  And Paul Wellstone — anyone watching this who doesn’t know who Paul Wellstone was should look him up.  He tragically died in a plane crash about a week before — 10 days before the 2002 Senate election.  And he was about to prove that you can get re-elected to the Senate from Minnesota, even if you voted your conviction, and voted against [00:36:00] the Iraq War.

Her whole theory was as follows — that 2004 would have played out like this:  Wellstone could not have resisted getting in the race, even though he hadn’t run in 2000, because of back problems.  Because as an anti-war candidate.  But he would have been too hot for the Democratic Party.  So they would have gone with a slightly less hot candidate, who was also anti-war.  The fiscally prudent former governor of Vermont, mainstream Democrat, Howard Dean.  And — no, in a lot of ways, Dean understood very early on that in a race where four candidates were for the Iraq War, [00:37:00] forget conviction.  If you’re the underfunded Howard Dean, being the fifth candidate for the Iraq War was not exactly the place to be.  He understood what used to be called counterprogramming.  Twenty, thirty years ago, a TV station up against the Super Bowl wouldn’t put on other football tapes.  They would run women’s movies.  Weepies.  And that was sort of your model for counterprogramming.

And to some extent, to understand the Dean campaign of 2004 — and I don’t rule out that there could be a Dean campaign in 2016 — is that more than any modern candidate, Dean instinctively understood counterprogramming, how to make yourself different than the people you were running against.

Q:              Well, this sounds — you started following him in summer of ’02.

SHAPIRO:   In the summer of ’02.

Q:              [00:38:00] The vote on the Iraq War was in October of ’02.  All the other Democrats vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq.

SHAPIRO:   Right.

Q:              Dean then sees an opening.  But doesn’t that contradict, in some sense, that when you decide to run for president, you’ve got to know why you’re running, as part of that decision.

SHAPIRO:   But I think, early on, while the vote was not until October, the fact that we were going into Iraq was obvious, ever since George W. Bush mentioned taxis — went from Afghanistan to the axis of evil, of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, in his 2002 State of the Union message.  So it wasn’t as if this war was suddenly announced three months after Dean started running.

Q:              When did — as you’re observing it, when did Dean break through, and become the phenomenon he was, [00:39:00] all through 2003?

SHAPIRO:   March of 2003.  I’m trying to — there were a series of events, one cascading after another.  There was a DNC speech.  There was a speech in Iowa.  There was just suddenly the fact that Dean was getting anti-war crowds.  I can just still see the room of about 1,000 people.  Grinnell College.  When most candidates were hard-pressed to draw 100.

Q:              And you mentioned in your book, a NARAL [National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League] speech.

SHAPIRO:   Yes.  But the…  One of my memories — we’re here on the Upper West Side of New York at 86th and Broadway.  And whenever I go to the airport, I go up Amsterdam.  [00:40:00] And there’s a youth hostel building at about 102nd and Amsterdam.  And what I remember about that building is in January of 2003, Howard Dean, in New York to do fundraising or TV, also stopped by the local Democratic club, as a speaker.  And no one knew who he was.  I think somebody introduced him as “John Dean.”  No, actually, I think at one point, Tom Harkin referred — the Senator from Iowa referred to Howard Dean as John Dean, the Watergate figure.  But Dean spoke for about 10 minutes, and this partially Hispanic, partially Upper West Side Liberal Democratic group was profoundly uninterested.  They rushed him off-stage, so they could bring out the salsa band that was going to provide entertainment.  [00:41:00] And I just — it is — so, whenever I go by the youth hostel, here was a person who was getting 10,000 people at “Sleepless Summer” rallies six months later.  And 40 Democrats in January were bored with him after eight minutes.

Q:              You observed the Kerry campaign, during this period.  You saw him fall from frontrunner status, rise again, toward the end of ’03.

SHAPIRO:   Well, I saw so many different John Kerry incarnations.  First of all, John Kerry really — the worst thing John Kerry — I’m not sure how — I’m not sure it played out in the general election, but the hardest thing for John Kerry [00:42:00] is that in 1998, when Bill Clinton didn’t want to actually do much against Saddam Hussein, for various violations of the no-fly zone, Kerry, as an obedient Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, sponsored a very toughly-worded resolution that the Clinton Administration dictated, that in essence said, “We are going to denounce Saddam Hussein in this resolution, to cover the fact that we’re going to do almost nothing militarily.”  But Kerry’s name was on this resolution, that basically made all the Bush charges against Saddam — you know, gassing the Marsh Arabs, threats — working with terrorists.  Threats [00:43:00] of weapons of mass destruction.  And I’ve always thought, even though I can’t — I don’t have proof of this – that more than anything, Kerry was so afraid of being accused of hypocrisy.  If he voted against the 2002 resolution to go to war with Iraq, citing many of the same grounds that his resolution in 1998 used to justify, well, not doing anything.

And it was this desperate quest for consistency that led John Kerry to the total inconsistency.  And I do have a memory, right before the South Carolina primary, of Kerry being at an outdoor rally, and being asked his position on the Iraq War.  And I clocked it.  The answer was five minutes and [00:44:00] 23 seconds.  The fact is that Kerry had an exceedingly intricate position that said, “Well, I didn’t really authorize him to go to war, I authorized him to only threaten war at the United Nations.”  But that never flew.  And that John Kerry — his biggest problem, for the Democratic constituencies, was that on the key vote, he was on the wrong side of the issue.  Even though so many of Kerry’s other entire political history was Democratic, Liberal, and he came, of course, to fame, as a soldier, who denounced the Vietnam War.

So, there was that problem. There was also the problem of, if you’re spending money too fast, and you’re not raising money, eventually, you run out of the said money.  This is what also happened to John McCain [00:45:00] in 2007, that — and in Kerry’s case, he was out of money by November of 2003, which is why I mentioned earlier, this intricate — the law — the campaign laws — even though he was married to Teresa Heinz, one of the wealthiest women in America, she could not give him money.  She could legally give him $2,000.  Because unless the funds were joint, it would be treated as any donor.  So you can imagine the frustration of a candidate, unable to pay vendors, unable to pay TV ads, with seven different homes (laughter), married to one of the richest women in America.  And they — as I recall, the Kerry campaign and a lot of election lawyers, [00:46:00] spent an awful lot of time, trying to figure out how much money could he claim that he owned, from the house they had in Louisburg Square in Boston, that he could then, in essence, take out a mortgage, or a loan against his share.  And it’s — I’m doing this from memory again — I think he raised for or five million dollars.

Q:              Six point four.  A significant amount for the campaign.

SHAPIRO:   And what it did, is it paid for some of the best ads of the 2004 campaign.  There was one ad that the Democratic media consultant, Jim Margolis did with a veteran of John Kerry’s Swiftboat.  Del Sandusky, that ends up with this very beefy, very Midwestern, very non-elite guy, saying about John Kerry, “This is a good man.”  And it was done with conviction.  And I’m convinced [00:47:00] that that ad, more than any single factor, is why Kerry won the Iowa caucuses.

In February and March, as Kerry is wrapping up the nomination, Jim Margolis and Bob Shrum, the other media consultant, got into a high-minded dispute over what percentage of the nine percent of the media buy that was their collective fee would go to each of them.  And, as Joe Klein recounts in his book on campaign — his denunc– his [inaudible] against campaign consultants, Paradise Lost, that I believe came out in 2006, the result was, Margolis left the campaign, Shrum got his nine percent.  Shrum and his partners got their nine percent, that was eventually negotiated [00:48:00] down to four and a half percent.  And after the [Dell Sandusky?] ad, John Kerry never made another ad that was anything other than TV wallpaper.