Joe Trippi Predicts a Bad Day for the GOP

In 2004 Joe Trippi became famous for his pioneering use of the Internet to raise more than $50 million for former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s bid for the Democrats’ presidential nomination. Using blogs and Internet social networks, Trippi created a grass-roots movement of small-donor contributors that raised more money than any Democrat presidential campaign in history.

Trippi is a veteran Democrat campaign operative who has worked on the campaigns of Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Dick Gephardt, as well as state and local candidates. He documented his Internet innovations in the book, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet, and the Overthrow of Everything." I talked to him Thursday, Nov. 2  by telephone from his home in Witman, Md.

Has John Kerry pulled the Republicans’ bacon out of the fire?

Joe Trippi: No, I don’t think so. I think the Kerry statement will have more to do with the blame game after the elections if the Democrats don’t win a few of the targeted races. I think before his statement the entire party establishment planned on blaming Howard Dean for any seats that were lost but now they’ll blame Kerry for it. That’s about the only thing that’s going to change.

If you were working for the Republicans right now, what would you do or could you do to prevent or mitigate their losses next week? Is it too late?

Trippi: No. I don’t think there’s anything they can do in the House. I think the House is gone and we’re just fighting over how big — and it’s going to be big — their losses are going to be. The Senate is a different story. There are probably three or four seats of theirs that are gone and three or four that are going to be decided by a couple points or less. You could lose the Senate or hold it by a fairly substantial margin. …

Clearly you do everything you can do — whether it’s more television, getting the president in there and increasing turnout. The problem Republicans have got is that it is not clear that Bush actually helps when he goes into a state. He may actually be hurting incumbents. It’s much more likely that this is going to be a referendum on George Bush and the Republican majority than anything John Kerry said in the last few days

Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania  is famous for winning and he’s been down before. Do you think he has a prayer?

Trippi: No, I don’t. If Rick Santorum wins that means Republicans are going to win all those seats. Given the desire for real change and the fact that Santorum just seems to be stuck in the polls at about 40 percent and not able to move above that, it’d be a minor miracle for him to win.

Can the famed Karl Rove get-out-the-vote-machine be a factor?

Trippi: I don’t think so. It may make a difference in one or two of the races but you’ve got to be really close to have turnout be a factor. It’s got to be a one- or two-point race. In the case of Rick Santorum, there’s no way the vaunted Rove turnout machine helps him. I don’t think he can get it close enough for it to help him.

Everyone seems to agree that the Republicans are being hurt most by Iraq. But which voters are the ones who are being lost — Republicans, independents, Democrats?

Trippi: The big thing that’s happening in this election is that independent voters who in the past two elections have tended to act — in terms of their voting behavior — more like Republicans than Democrats suddenly have shifted hard to voting Democratic….

Some Republicans believe the Iraq war is not worth the cost and blood and resources and feel that if the Iraqis don’t want to stand up for themselves we should get out of there, and the Bush administration is failing to deal with reality. They are starting to lose Republican support as well. That’s what’s starting to hurt Santorum. He’s losing not just independents but also some of the Republican base is defecting.

Specifically how did you use the Internet to "revolutionize" how political campaigns are run?

Trippi: Television is an isolating medium that takes people out of the process — it’s one way. What the Internet’s doing is making people matter again; making it possible for people to connect with each other for the common good or common purpose. That’s what we did in the Dean campaign. You’re seeing it in a lot of campaigns this year on both sides of the aisle. Getting more people to participate in the process is good for democracy, regardless of who wins. I think it’s better that the American people actually participate instead of just viewing the negative ads on television. You are seeing both parties reach out and use the connective ability of the Internet and other technologies to get people to actually participate and become involved in the process. Again, I think that is good regardless of what party they’re in.

Can the Internet create new supporters or get out the vote?

Trippi: It’s being used a lot differently now. People are using it to organize and get out the vote and get people activated. I think you’re going to see a higher participation in an off-year election among younger voters than you’ve seen in any other election in our history. They’re actually participating more now because of the Internet and getting each other to vote.
Campaigns are using those tools effectively. …There are all kinds of different sites and things that are happening outside of the usual two-party committees. It’s not Rick Santorum and the Republican Senate Campaign Committee versus Bob Casey and the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. You now have the Web site urging people to contribute to Casey and raising $10 million and targeting selected races this year. You’re seeing sort of a decentralization where actual citizens don’t have to rely on the party committees; they can support their own candidates.

So it’s truly a democratization of the political process?

Trippi: Yeah, it really is. That’s what we are seeing. It’s the people at the bottom — and I don’t mean that in an economic sense; I’m talking about ordinary people who now have a way to connect and put their $25 together or their four hours each working in the neighborhood for a common political good. I mean Republican political good or Democratic political good. It doesn’t really matter. I’m really not trying to be partisan in my answer. This really is adding to participation, helping the democracy and democratizing which candidates even win the primaries.

Look at what happened in Connecticut. Joe Lieberman may indeed win his Senate seat, but it wasn’t any of the usual political institutions like the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee that decided it. It wasn’t the normal guys in the back room deciding who was going to get the party’s nomination. Citizens actually banded together and for whatever reasons, good or bad, changed the nomination process and actually nominated Ned Lamont to be the Democratic Party’s standard-bearer. That’s the kind of shift you are going to see occur more in the future.

What will happen in the House and Senate on Tuesday?

Trippi: I think the House is going to be really big — at the upper end of some of the numbers. It could easily be 35 seats won by the Democrats. The Senate is the one that’s tough to predict because it really could go either way.

I could see anything from Democrats only gaining four or five seats to gaining eight seats. That’s possible, but my guess is that Democrats are going to come up a seat or two short in the Senate.