The Internet pundits have been questioning the Dean media
strategy for some time. It just seemed that they were sucking up
millions from the ‘net and shoveling it directly into the coffers of
the Big Three TV networks for scads of ads – handing the cash to the
dastardly dudes who turned on the campaign just as it was showing signs
of making some real headway in transforming the electoral panorama.
Why would Joe Trippi, the prescient political guru who invented the
Dean Internet strategy and alone among major campaign managers seemed
to "get it" from our point of view, take all of the money raised by alternative
media and hand it over to traditional media? Turns out he was getting
a kickback for every single ad! As reported in the
Unique among presidential campaign managers, Trippi enjoyed a dual
role. He was the head of Dean’s campaign and a partner in Trippi,
McMahon & Squier,
or TMS, the Alexandria, Va., firm that handles Dean’s media buying
and has been associated with his political career since 1992.
Trippi has said repeatedly that he received no salary for his yearlong
role in Dean’s campaign. But that is not to say he left Dean’s campaign
empty-handed. Under an arrangement that is traditional in political
campaigns, Trippi’s firm receives commissions each time Dean’s campaign
buys a radio
or TV ad. Through the end of January, according to a person close to
the campaign, these commissions had added up to about $700,000 for TMS.
Who knew? More to the point, why DIDN’T we know? Turns out some of his other advice was faulty as well. Misinterpreting
the historical truism that presidential primaries are won on the ground,
with intensive local grass-roots organizing, canvassing and get-out-the-vote
drives on primary day, he forgot that the key word in that rule is "local".
In Iowa and New Hampshire Trippi brought in a small army of young volunteers,
many of barely voting age (or less), snatching them from in front of computer
screens across the land. They were like on some gigantic Senior Class
Road Trip, crashing in supporters living rooms and vans, eating junk
food on the fly, and playing the role of real political partisans, Unfortunately
these naive neophytes were worse than useless; they cluttered up the
landscape and scared the Bejeezus out of the small-state farmers and families
in Iowa and New Hampshire, who saw them as an invading army of weird geeks
who seemed to have run away from home to join a circus.
And they were clueless. On several occasions, driving around small
cities and towns in New Hampshire, the Dowbrigade and his stalwart cohort
got lost, rushing to make a press conference, town meeting or other campaign
event. We knew we were close; there were knots of sign-carrying supporters
scattered on street corners working on their Campaign Cheers and throwing
snowballs at each other.
So we would stop and cheerfully ask a group teenaged of Dean supporters,
"Where is the event?" They would look around as if searching for a crossing
guard, and answer "Gee, I don’t know!" One time several of these schemes
even asked me, "What event?" Another time, looking for a major event
at a municipal auditorium which turned out to be just two blocks from the
corner we were at, our inquiries were met by a blank stare and the disclaimer,
"We’re not from around here"
Trippi seemed to have missed the fact that local grassroots support
needs to be, well, local, and that people might resent hordes of numbnut
outsiders partying on their street corners in the name of a man who would
It wasn’t the Internet that sank Dean. It was a combination of
poor advice, sloppy execution and being played like a pansy by a Big Media
Machine looking only for fresh meat to oil the cogs and gears of it’s American
Gladiator-like production of what has become our perennial political made-for-TV