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Politicizing the Web

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Erstwhile Howard Dean campaign guru Joe Trippi pioneered the political use of blogs and other online tools. Since the dot-com bust of the late '90s, Americans have gotten burned out on rhetoric about the Internet's revolutionary promise. But as Trippi reminds us in his new campaign memoir, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Regan Books), that doesn't mean the rhetoric isn't true. Assistant Editor Julian Sanchez spoke with Trippi in September.

Q: The Democrats seem to have taken the lead in using blogs as a fund-raising tool.

A: The Republican Party is the most disciplined, top-down party. That's anathema on the Internet, even on the right-wing Web sites. They're the last people who're going to be comfortable letting go. The Democratic Party, for lack of a better way of putting it, is more dysfunctional and more open.

??????????? That's not a condemnation of Republicans. They've been more successful in electoral politics–their way is working. They've also been very good at adapting what works: We discovered direct-mail fundraising, and they mastered it. My fear is that Dean is the Japanese at Pearl Harbor–that we'll waken the sleeping Republican giant.

Q: What do you expect to see in 2008?

A: I tell everyone they have to do a hybrid TV/online campaign in 2008. And I think there's a strong chance by 2008 we'll have a third party. The Dean campaign never had any help from the party infrastructure, and we proved you could run a campaign without that by going to people directly. The next guy who goes outside the party who's solid will set off a sea change, and the parties, especially the party that loses this election, are running on borrowed time. You could see one of the major parties become the Whigs.

Q: Do you worry that electoral politics is so inherently hierarchical that the kind of distributed, decentralized campaign you imagine can't ultimately beat a more disciplined one?

A: No. What we discovered is that it's not true that you can't get a distributed network to do something in particular for you. It's just that you can only get them to do one thing. We got to 600,000 people and suddenly stopped growing. We realized it's because if we gave them a list of five things to do, some might do number two, some number five, some might do something else, and so on. If it's one thing, they say, "OK, we get it," and they do that well. But when we changed the emphasis to raising money, they stopped doing that.

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