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Loose Democracy

January 29, 2004

Goodbye, Joe

I would have bet money on that other Joe leaving the campaign trail before the Trippi Joe. But, spend $40M losing the first two contests with a week left until the next batch, and an organization figures out how to compress its 5 stages of grief into a press release and five-minute "Let's keep our eyes on the prize" speech to the HQ workers.

I am not inside the Dean organization enough to know what Trippi did wrong. I hear the TV ads sucked, and I'm more than a little disturbed that the campaign managed to spend all of the money it raised, but I also saw some things that Trippi did right. Real right.

He came into the campaign with the idea that the Internet could be used to counter big money interests.

He figured out that supporters could move the campaign forward if they were allowed to connect with one another.

He was genuinely ok with keeping the campaign out of the center, letting this campaign be by and about its supporters in a way that no other national campaign in my lifetime has.

He was ok about the loss of control that this entailed.

He let people run with ideas. He let them experiment and fail. He was also strongly opinionated and sometimes tough to work with. But those who worked closest with him on the Internet side generally loved him.

He allowed the Dean netfolks to develop their own voices on the blog and elsewhere. That is an epochal change for a national campaign.

He let the Dean netfolks keep stirring their own waters so that the site wouldn't settle into complacency.

He headed the first national campaign ever to release open source software, much less software that could be used by the campaign's rivals.

The net gurus Trippi admired were ones I, too, hold in the highest regard.

He consistently saw the online efforts as a way to move people into the street. The Dean campaign pioneered the use of MeetUps not as "social events" but to enable local people to organize local events. Likewise, the Dean social network is geared towards enabling the grassroots to organize events without requiring the permission of the center; in September, 1,200 events — from fund raisers to tabling to holding signs — were generated spontaneously that way.

Trippi saw the Internet as an important component of an insurgent's strategy but told me in June that he intended to "win every game," including fund raising (which he did) and using TV ads effectively (which he didn't).

How much credit does Trippi deserve? It'd take someone much closer to the campaign to figure that out. I know that Zephyr and others on the Dean Net team are deep innovators and profoundly committed to the Internet as a genuinely democratizing force, but at the very least Trippi deserves credit for pulling that team together and letting them charge ahead. He did so knowing that it could transform politics.

I think in that he succeeded.

Posted by David at 10:43 AM
  Comments and Trackbacks
More over at Loose Democracy

Excerpt: I've posted an appreciation of Joe Trippi over at my new Corante blog, "Loose Democracy." (I haven't figured out my policy about cross-posting myself, so for now I'm taking the raw self-promotional approach.)...

Read the rest...

Trackback from Joho the Blog, Jan 29, 2004 10:51 AM

Love the new blog, Dave.

Dean's gift may be his ability to surround himself with innovative thinkers, but ultimately winning campaigns is about the candidate him or herself. For the company one keeps can be merely the image to which one aspires, and not necessarily reflective of the man himself. I think this is the case with Howard Dean, a wannabe intuitive trapped in the mind of a logical. And so it goes...

Posted by Terry Heaton on January 29, 2004 11:40 AM | Permalink to Comment

"He was ok about the loss of control that this entailed."

Dean, however, is not.

"You're going to see a leaner, meaner organization," Dr. Dean told reporters on an 8pm conference call [...] "What we need is decision making that's centralized." (From today's NY Times)

The story of how Dean came to call for centralization, this late in his campaign, is going to be one for us who believe in decentralization to chew on for some time to come.

Posted by Clay Shirky on January 29, 2004 12:01 PM | Permalink to Comment

And it's worth pointing out that he brought in long-time Gore buddy, and Washington insider, Roy Neel to be "CEO" of his campaign. I would assume that this would further alienate the base that Trippi helped build. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out and whether or not people keep jumping ship as Dean moves to the center with his new company men.

Posted by Mark Maynard on January 29, 2004 12:35 PM | Permalink to Comment

Clay, I agree that this is troubling. But I want to see what it means, since it may only be referring to the fact that decision-making in the campaign apparently has been broken for a while, with Trippi and the Gov's longer-term advisors sometimes making contradictory decisions. Or it may be the start of a more general lock-down.

The Dean Internet strategy hasn't really been about decentralized decision-making anyway (except in the important sense that voting is the ultimate decentralized decision process). With the exception of the vote on opting out of the voluntary finance restrictions and a contest for the best new slogan, the Net strategy has focused on collaborative action, not decision-making. Hasn't it?

Well, we'll see.

Posted by David Weinberger on January 29, 2004 12:59 PM | Permalink to Comment

Mark, any "seasoned pol" Dean brought in would be some sort of Washington insider. The more worrisome fact for me is that Neel is a former head of the U.S. Telecom Association. David Corn writes about this, and it's scary.

Posted by David Weinberger on January 29, 2004 01:03 PM | Permalink to Comment

I love the irony of the Telcos' chief lobbyist taking over the Internet campaign. Perhaps the Smart Network is better than the stupid one after all.

Posted by Richard Bennett on January 29, 2004 01:46 PM | Permalink to Comment

David -- Thanks for writing about this. We will all need to wait and see. Halley

Posted by Halley Suitt on January 29, 2004 04:51 PM | Permalink to Comment


It's really amazing that the Dean/Trippi campaign spent so much so fast.

On January 12 you blogged that Clark's money would run out in March making his chances of beating Bush low. Do you think Dean will be able to raise a quick second round of $40 million (or more) from his donors or do you think his lack of funds make him an unviable candidate?

Posted by Mike Sanders on January 29, 2004 05:37 PM | Permalink to Comment
Collecting Comments on Internet Campaigns

Excerpt: A lot of smart people are thinking deeply about the promise and perils of online political organizing and the lessons to be drawn from the Howard Dean experience. The commonality that I see is the idea of a disconnect between

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Trackback from Mindlock, Jan 29, 2004 6:20 PM

Mike, I think it's a real issue for the Dean campaign. But, they are at least legally allowed to raise more money, whereas those who opted into the finance law are not. Whether the campaign can raise significant amounts of cash at this point probably depends hugely on how Dean does in the upcoming primaries. My guess is that he'd have to do pretty damn well at this point.

Posted by David Weinberger on January 29, 2004 07:23 PM | Permalink to Comment

Praise or Bury?

David, I'm surprised you didn't comment on this article from the NYTimes:

"Tricia Enright, the campaign's communications director, said Dr. Dean was forming 'a new creative team' to overhaul its television advertisements. She said the campaign was not firing its media firm, in which Mr. Trippi is a partner. Many Dean supporters have been critical of the ad campaign, particularly in Iowa. Some questioned the arrangements by which Mr. Trippi forfeited a salary as a campaign manager but collected commissions said to be as high as 15 percent in some cases based on advertising buys."


Posted by Dan Herzlich on January 30, 2004 11:47 AM | Permalink to Comment

The USTA represents the smaller local telephone companies and NOT the biggies. There's been a lot of misinformation about that. I don't know whether Rick Neel eats dead babies or not, but he did not lobby for SBC, Verizon, Bell South, et al.

Posted by elliottg on January 30, 2004 02:15 PM | Permalink to Comment

Dan, I didn't comment because I didn't see it. And even now, I'm not sure what a helpful comment would be: Sounds fishy? Having the campaign manager collect on ad buys is stupid and corrupt?

I'm not a reporter covering a beat, Dan. There's lots of important and interesting stuff I'll never mention because all I'd have to say is totally obvious.

Posted by David Weinberger on January 30, 2004 02:17 PM | Permalink to Comment

I always assumed that Trippi was getting something. I based this on the scene in the West Wing where the campaign guy they call in to run the reelection discusses his override on media buys. So it's at least common enough that Hollywood has heard of it. Maybe it's the 15% figure that surprises everybody.

Posted by elliottg on January 30, 2004 03:13 PM | Permalink to Comment

Give me 15% of many million bucks, and I'll be mellow about turning control of the enterprise over to a bunch of kids with purple hair and body piercings too.

Posted by Richard Bennett on January 30, 2004 10:40 PM | Permalink to Comment
Time To Start Asking the Hard Questions About Trippi and the $40 Million

Excerpt: I have held off commenting on the post-New Hampshire reorganization at Dean for America (DFA) for the last few days...

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Trackback from Just Well Mixed, Jan 31, 2004 12:57 AM
David Weinberger pays tribute to Joe Trippi

Excerpt: David Weinberger lists several things that indicated how Joe Trippi had several "Clues" about how to use the Web with politics. See Loose Democracy...

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Trackback from Movable Theoblogical, Jan 31, 2004 1:13 PM

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