Hillary Clinton

The Tragedy of Joe Trippi

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Listening in to a conference call with the top brass of the John Edwards campaign, I was pleased to hear Garance Franke-Ruta ask the question I wanted to ask. Basically: Edwards's people say the campaign is going to take public financing because the amount of money in politics is "disgusting" and dis-empowers voters and they want to set us all on the path to public financing. Franke-Ruta noticed that Edwards consultant/former Howard Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi was oppugning Hillary but not mentioning Obama, so:

Asked about whether the campaign had similar concerns about Barack Obama, who is also rejecting the public financing system during the primary, and whose campaign recently announced more than 350,000 donors making more than 500,000 donations so far this year, Trippi's voice changed and softened. "Up until today Obama has not joined us" in pledging to take public funds, he said. "Obama in the Senate race did take PAC and lobbyist money. In this race he hasn't, but again, the sharpest division is between us and Hillary Clinton on this… At this point in time the American people are going to have a clear choice."

This was a huge and snigger-worthy diversion. I can't believe that Trippi is excited about framing the election this way. He obviously loathes old-style bundling-and-$1000-plate fundraising dinner politics: "There are few things I hate more than this self-defeating system of politics, and I am confident that one day soon it will be lying in a heap alongside the road," he wrote in his 2004 memoir The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

But it's 2007 and that political system is halfway to the landfill, and one of the biggest reasons is: Joe Trippi. In 2003 the Dean campaign held a vote on its blog, asking supporters if the campaign should go off public financing and instead try to out-raise the Bush campaign with hundreds of thousands of small donations. The anti-public financiers won, 85-15, and Dean became the first Democrat to run outside the public financing system. After leaving the campaign Trippi saw this as a defining moment:

… Trippi insisted "the most significant event" of the watershed Dean campaign was the "four days in November" when Dean opted out of public financing, followed by Kerry. "That's when 300,000 Dean supporters screwed up Karl Rove's plans," Trippi recalled, by telling the former Vermont governor it was OK to reject public financing, long a pet cause of progressives, to use his amazing Internet base to challenge the GOP's cash dominance—which allowed Kerry to follow suit.

Republicans "just didn't believe it," Trippi recalls. "They thought those goody two-shoes progressives would stay with public financing while they opted out." And in the end, Trippi insists, Dean's decision helped Kerry, who's been able to raise $182 million to Bush's $215 million this primary season, as opposed to the $45 million he'd have had to spend if he'd stayed with public financing.

Trippi understands that the modest-but-revolutionary advance of web-based donations has opened up politics far more than the split-the-baby public financing system ever could. It's excruciating watching him argue for the old, broken system.

I chucked public funds-related CFR into a cistvaen earlier this year.

NEXT: Petitioning the Government for a Prevention of Grievances

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  1. That’s when 300,000 Dean supporters screwed up Karl Rove’s plans,” Trippi recalled

    Am I misreading or mistremembering something here? I thought the Rove “plan” was to get GWB reelected? He was reelected wasn’t he?

    Oh, wait, I get it now and am in complete agreement with you, David, on the mental state of Mr. Tripperi

  2. Uh, yeah, since George Bush won, that means the Dean campaign didn’t do anything innovative, or change force other campaigns to change their strategies.

    That’s exactly how it works.

  3. I chucked public funds-related CFR into a cistvaen earlier this year.

    The reasons people are still promoting public financing, even though you chucked it into a cistvaen, is that nobody knows what the hell a cistvaen is. They may think that being chucked into a cistvaen is an endorsement.

  4. Slightly off-topic:

    Who checks the damn box on their tax return to provide the funds for public financing anyways?

    Or is that all a sham and the cash comes out of general revenues.

  5. Cistvaen: A Celtic sepulchral chamber of flat stones set together like a box, and covered by a tumulus.

  6. “This was a huge and snigger-worthy diversion”

    I find the word “snigger to be patently offensive.

    – Snigel

  7. JMR – I found this:

    cistvaen, kistvaen: A Celtic sepulchral chamber of flat stones set together like a box, and covered by a tumulus.

    That’s the problem – he forgot to cover it with a tumulus.

  8. I find the word “snigger to be patently offensive.

    – Snigel

    Yeah, well, try living with ‘Chuckle’ your whole life.

    -Chuck

  9. SIV,

    I check it, and the money is diverted from the general fund to the campaign fund.

  10. cistvaen, kistvaen: A Celtic sepulchral chamber of flat stones set together like a box, and covered by a tumulus.

    Cistvaen, kistvaen, sepulchral, tumulus… it sounds like the cast of women in an artsy European porn movie.

  11. ah, yes, the joy of grinding

  12. joe,

    Yeah, YOU check it but that is only $3 or whatever.I think their must be a bunch of EIC recipients giving MY 3 bucks to a mega-millionaire trial attorney.

  13. In Canada, we have a mandated publicly funded campaign*. No one can spend money other than the publicly funded money during the election. Each party is allocated funds to spend based on how they did in the last election. This is very cosy for the existing parties, since it effectively silences any newcomers, at least for the critical weeks leading up to the election.

    *The official election campaign is three to five weeks from the issuance of the Writ to voting day. Outside of that time, of course, the parties are free to spend their own money to promote themselves.

    This is a recipe for an entrenched political class, answerable to no one. For all the flaws of the US system, I think I’d take it over ours.

  14. >

    … and just how did politicians get elected to office ‘before’ the era of big-money & television ads ??

    The never-asked question is WHY candidates ‘need’ to spend so much money.

    Anybody who’s viewed campaign ads over the years can attest to how superficial & empty they are. Why are they deemed so valuable — and how were elections won before they existed ?

    MSM journalists should not be focusing on ‘Public-Financing’ as the obvious ‘solution’ — but rather stepping back and analyzing whether ‘money’ should be a problem at all in American elections.

    >

  15. In Canada, we have a mandated publicly funded campaign*. No one can spend money other than the publicly funded money during the election. Each party is allocated funds to spend based on how they did in the last election. This is very cosy for the existing parties, since it effectively silences any newcomers, at least for the critical weeks leading up to the election.

    Yes. And you have countries with even more restrictive rules on fundraising, like Belgium. Then, the government can simply defund and shut up parties they don’t like, as they have been trying to do to the Vlaams Belang.

  16. The fershlugginer Vlaams Blok can kiss my Walloon ass. Flemish? Hah. Try Phlegmish!

  17. I think Howard Dean was under-appreciated by Libertarians. Opting out of tax funding for his campaign is just one issue – he was also opposed to new gun control laws, and he balanced the budget as Governor of Vermont.

    And, of course, he opposed the Iraq War. His one big mistake was hiring Joe Trippi to run his campaign.

  18. joe,

    Uh, yeah, since George Bush won, that means the Dean campaign didn’t do anything innovative, or change force other campaigns to change their strategies.

    No, that’s the opposite of what Weigel was trying to argue.

  19. Sounds like Little John is already angling to be put on the undercard of the Obama ticket. Seems too early to me to be playing favorites with his esteemed adversaries.

  20. Last I recall, in Thailand it was illegal to advertise anything other than your name and maybe your picture. Issue positions and party affiliation were not to be advertised. Of course, that was from before the last coup.

  21. “Who checks the damn box on their tax return to provide the funds for public financing anyways?”

    My goody good accountant does.

  22. NP,

    Since it wasn’t clear, I was slagging on Montag.

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