Saturday, May 15, 2004

It's no secret that I was a big supporter of Howard Dean. I liked his message and I liked the way that he delivered it. In fact, I had the opportunity to see Hoho in Portland last summer during the legendary Sleepless Summer Tour and the energy generated by Dean and his supporters at UoP that hot afternoon is something I won't soon forget. I left there with the feeling that YEAH! this is the GUY!!! When the wheels came off in Iowa, I was disappointed in a big way and I just could not figure out why things had gone so terribly wrong.

In the first of what I'm sure will be an avalanche of stories from the inside of the Dean Campaign Paul Maslin (who was Hoho's pollster) gives us a look at what can only be described as the dysfunctional family that was DeanForAmerica.

A must read....
Joe Trippi was the principal force in pushing the campaign to unprecedented heights of grassroots activism and small-donor fundraising. His brilliance was obvious to all, and it wasn't limited to his innovative use of the Internet, which defined so much of the Dean campaign. He was also a visionary of the highest order, able to see both the opportunities and the risks with which this campaign was constantly presented. Yet he was a poor manager—and in fact he was never even given a full opportunity to work as one, because Dean decided early that Trippi should not have budgetary authority. Joe was an irascible leader who rarely understood the need to buck up those around him when things went wrong; instead he either lashed out at the offender, usually with good cause, or often retreated to his corner office and behind his computer, giving off such strong vibrations of doom and darkness that even the most trusted and loyal members of his staff did not dare disturb him. Trippi was the one person other than Dean—and at times the only person, including Dean—who could be counted on to stay on message, yet he so jealously guarded his press contacts and attention that even his closest associates were wary of talking to the media for fear of alienating him. He believed passionately in Howard Dean's message, yet he allowed himself to become almost a rival messenger; he came to be viewed, by supporters and detractors alike, as the true core of the campaign, more so even than the candidate himself.

It should have been no surprise that normal petty jealousies and staff rivalries, when combined with a full dose of Trippi, led to a very dysfunctional organization. (Trippi would often joke, "If these other campaigns only knew what this campaign is really like ...") Slights, real and imagined, bred accusations that were hurled back and forth in our Burlington office or in hushed phone conversations around the country. Joe threatened to leave more than once, predicting disaster all along; those who were not fans of his threatened on several occasions to have Dean replace him. At one point he overturned a desk in rage in front of his personal assistant, Kristen Morgante, who not surprisingly walked out of the office and didn't return until two days later, after Trippi had apologized. Another characteristic outburst occurred in a hotel in Des Moines, when Dean balked at Trippi's idea of putting out a pamphlet aping Thomas Paine's Common Sense because he had been given only a couple of days to review it before the printing deadline. Trippi blamed Kate O'Connor, Dean's closest aide, for the holdup; he left the candidate's suite, threw his cell phone down the corridor, and screamed, "That bitch!"

Through it all, even on the good days, Joe would look at us with that intense and very dark glare of his and ask, "What about Iowa?" He had campaigned in the state at least three times before: as a young staffer for Ted Kennedy in his unsuccessful primary effort against Jimmy Carter, in 1980; as the Iowa director for Walter Mondale, in 1984; and as Dick Gephardt's deputy campaign manager, in 1988. He had certain ideas about how to win the caucuses and was increasingly frustrated that the Iowa staff seemed to be carrying out none of them. "You need a person running each county who is in that county, no matter how small it is," he said. "This campaign has a bunch of kids in regional headquarters that never go out into the counties. You need a precinct captain for every one of the nearly two thousand precincts. Jeani doesn't believe in that. I keep asking, and they can't tell me how many we have. And you need a hard count of ones [political parlance for strong supporters who have said they'll back the candidate]—that's what Mondale did. That's what Gephardt did, and he's doing it again. Our campaign doesn't know how many ones it has, and I keep asking for it!"


All of us involved in the Dean campaign made mistakes, for sure. But to be fair, our candidate's erratic judgment, loose tongue, and overall stubbornness wore our spirits down. He refused to be scripted, to be disciplined, or to discipline himself, in his remarks about everything from the Red Sox and the Yankees to Middle Eastern diplomacy. I later likened it all to repeatedly tapping an egg against the edge of a kitchen counter: eventually the egg would break. That's what happened in Iowa.

Several times during the campaign we had attempted to change the cast of characters accompanying Dean, so someone could help shield him from increasingly tough or persistent media questioning or, at least, recognize and fix problems on the spot. We desperately needed an "adult" (preferably one the candidate knew and respected) to help provide some stability around him, or simply to take him to the woodshed when he did screw up, to reduce the chances of its happening again. Such a person didn't exist in Howard Dean's personal orbit, and the campaign never found one for the job.

But the bigger problem was Dean himself—the enemies he had made and the process that had made him a target. The other campaigns' responses to our success intensified in the fall. At one point Gephardt's campaign created a Web site,, reserved for attacks on Dean's record. John Kerry chafed at all the media attention we were getting and once muttered in frustration, "Dean. Dean. Dean. Dean. Dean," not realizing he was near a live mike.

I had never heard Dean's Iowa concession called his "I Have a Scream" speach before...

In an interview with Atlantic Online Maslin adds:
Everyone was very conscious of what we were doing at the time we were doing it—from the governor on down. You couldn't be part of this campaign and not be aware that we were making history. We were attacking the citadel. We were changing politics—maybe even revolutionizing politics—with the Internet and the grassroots activity. It ended up being a pretty quick and brutal demise. But that shouldn't in any way diminish the achievement.