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Trippi on Democratic Campaigns

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Joe Trippi
CBS Political Analyst; Former Adviser, Howard Dean and John Edwards Campaigns
Wednesday, March 12, 2008; 2:00 PM

Democratic strategist and CBS political analyst Joe Trippi was online Wednesday, March 12 at 2 p.m. ET to discuss campaign tactics and online grassroots work by the Clinton and Obama campaigns.

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The transcript follows.

Trippi is a political analyst for CBS; earlier in the election cycle, he was a senior adviser to the John Edwards campaign. He's best known for managing Howard Dean's 2004 campaign and its innovative use of the Internet. You can read more about Trippi and his book, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," at his Web site.

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Aldie, Va.: Do you foresee a brokered convention?

Joe Trippi: I don't see a brokered convention I think it will be clear after North Carolina if Clinton has a chance to open this up or not -- and if she cannot it will be over well before the convention

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Germantown, Md.: I used to think the Democrats had a real advantage over the Republicans in the presidential election this year. I have changed my mind after the Florida/Michigan mistake, superdelegates and now a fight between two sides that hate each other that will last for months. Is this anyway to run a primary?

Joe Trippi: I think none of the Florida and Michigan stuff will matter. In the end McCain says we may need to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years and that the economy is not his thing. If either Clinton or Obama can not defeat McCain with just those two facts -- then Democrats have a big big problem.

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Sydney, Australia: If, for arguments sake, Obama won the most number of states, the popular vote and the most delegates, and the superdelegates then gave the nomination to Clinton, what would be the future of the Democratic Party after that? Would the damage be insurmountable?

Joe Trippi: If the scenario you paint actually happens -- I do not see how the super delegates give Clinton the nomination. If they do so after Obama has won all the categories you list -- I think the party would be in tatters and would be very difficult to be put back together in a way that wins the general election

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Washington: Hi there. So what happened to your candidate? Hasn't he sort of rendered himself meaningless by not having acted on an endorsement?

Joe Trippi: John Edwards led on every single issue and pushed both Clinton and Obama on everything from the war in Iraq to Poverty. He has had an enormous impact on this election cycle and still will. I would caution that he may play a key role in bringing the party together by not endorsing -- that may not help him personally but it may be exactly what the party and the country needs

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Naperville, Ill.: Good morning and thanks for chatting. What do you think is the optimal solution to the Florida and Michigan problems the Democrats have?

Joe Trippi: The real solution here may be to give each campaign something they want. The Clinton campaign wants a primary in Florida and will most likely win this state. The Obama campaign would win a caucus in Michigan. Voters do not get into the arcane party rules and who broke them. But Michigan and Florida voters will not understand why the Democratic Party does not seat their delegations. Democrats should do some kind of redo -- my advice a Primary (mail in or not) in Florida and a Firehouse Caucus in Michigan.

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San Francisco: Are you in touch with your colleagues in the Clinton campaign? When will they shut down Geraldine Ferraro? This is getting embarrassing.

Joe Trippi: Uhmmmm, I have no connection to the Clinton campaign and have no idea when or if they are going to talk to Ferraro.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Yet another campaign staffer/volunteer/surrogate has made a remark that has provoked shock and anguish by the opposing side. Now it's a battle of "your" comments were worse than "our" comments, so we're not going to do anything. Shouldn't we be more concerned with what the actual candidates are saying? Frankly, I'm tired of both Democratic candidates trashing each other. It's going to be a long, long several weeks here in the Commonwealth.

Joe Trippi: As bad as this may seem -- this campaign has been much more positive than any I can remember (at least so far).

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Washington: If we counted delegates the way electoral votes are counted (including number per state and winner-take-all), which Democratic candidate would be ahead thus far? If it is Sen. Clinton, shouldn't that be factored into what the superdelegates do? If she wins the states that likely will go for the Democratic nominee, shouldn't that count?

Joe Trippi: The rules are the rules -- there is no winner take all on the Democratic side and we so not pick our nominee through electoral votes. In all of the close fights on the Democratic side the Super delegates has always gone with the candidate who held the most pledged delegates prior to the convention. This was true in 1980 with Carter and with Walter Mondale in 1984.

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Richmond, Va.: Are you going to advise Mark Warner on his Senate campaign?

Joe Trippi: Mark Warner is a good friend and he will make a great Senator. I will help him anyway I can, but I doubt he needs my help to win -- he has a great record as Governor and the people of Virginia are making him a formidable frontrunner

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Salisbury, N.C.: I was an avid supporter of Howard Dean's quest for the presidency in 2004. Why were you fired by Dean?

Joe Trippi: I think if you ask Howard this question he will agree that I was not fired. He wanted me and another very good manager to run the campaign -- I thought two people holding onto the steering wheel would not work and I chose to get out of the way.

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Waterville, Maine: Hi Joe. Do you have any indication of whether Edwards has decided whom to support? Any idea when an endorsement might happen? If not, which candidate would most seem to represent his priorities?

Joe Trippi: I really do not expect John Edwards to endorse at this point. Or I should say I would be surprised if he does. But then again he could surprise me. How is that for a run around answer to your question?

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Re: the "superdelegates": Joe: Your response to what happens if Obama leads in states, delegates and total votes: "If the scenario you paint actually happens -- I do not see how the super delegates give Clinton the nomination." We're basically there now; why do we have to wait until after North Carolina? And what could happen to make it clear to the Clintons that they can't win?

Joe Trippi: In a democracy they get to run until someone has the votes on the floor of the convention to be declared the nominee. They could win North Carolina -- they could win Indiana -- and they could change the perceptions people have about the race and Obama. They have a right to make the case -- voters have the right to reject or accept that case

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Helena, Mont.: I keep hearing that the superdelegates were given their role to have some adults in charge of the convention, but I remember that in one year -- could be 1972 -- there weren't a lot of elected officials who were delegates at the convention, depriving said elected officials of some free prime-time publicity, and that's why they became superdelegates. Or, to say it in less-convoluted terms, the Democrats wanted their elected officials to be at the convention in an official capacity and to be visible to the public.

Joe Trippi: No super delegates were put there to stop a candidacy that they deemed a mistake. So that no insurgent could get the nomination without the blessing of the party leaders. They have the final word. But too date they have never used that power to counter someone who took a pledged delegate lead into the convention. Interestingly in 1980 the Kennedy campaign wanted to release all delegates to become unpledged and vote their conscience. I was on Senator Kennedy's staff that year and was the floor manager for the Utah and Texas delegations. We lost that fight; 28 years later Kennedy is with the Obama campaign.

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New York: Pardon a direct question, but isn't it gratingly insular for a white insider to proclaim this campaign the "cleanest" of recent time? Obama has been challenged either falsely or outrageously based on issues of race and religion, and he has been called a liar by a press corps that now refuses to concede Obama was telling the truth.

Joe Trippi: First -- there are few in the party who consider me an insider. Though I am white. It still doesn't change the fact that this has been among the cleanest primary fights I can remember. The fact that you think it is so dirty reflects more on how bad it has been in the past.

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Jackson Heights, N.Y.: What will/can the Democratic nominee do to counter expected Republican onslaughts in the upcoming presidential campaign so that such unprincipled tactics as "Swift-Boating" effectively can be neutralized?

Joe Trippi: I think we have to say out loud that if you want the past -- and you want the politics of destruction then vote for the republicans -- if you want to leap into the future and change things then reject these tactics and vote for the future.

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Ohio: I like John Edwards and wish he had been able to persevere. If our party does nominate the Senator from Illinois as our candidate, I feel we are in big trouble. He is being touted as a virtual "second coming" for no good reason. It is surprising, as well-informed as we Americans seem to be, that we can be duped. Hillary Clinton is being vilified mostly because she is a woman. People are looking past her intelligence because she is not a frilly female who acquiesces to the male-dominated political machine.

Joe Trippi: I wish Edwards were still in the race as well.

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Roanoke, Va.: Is the infighting among Hillary's staff as bad as it was a few weeks ago? Does Barack's staff have more discipline and better morale?

Joe Trippi: I don't get the sense that there is much infighting if any going on in the Obama campaign. But if they were losing...who knows? Winning makes you a genius and losing makes you an unmitigated idiot. Trust me. I know

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La Vale, Md.: Assuming that Clinton does not completely blow Obama out in Pennsylvania, how do you see this race resolving without the party splitting itself in half? Is a Hillary/Barack or Barack/Hillary ticket the only possible way for that to be avoided?

Joe Trippi: I think the super delegates who support the losing candidate will end this. In other words it will be the Charlie Rangel's and others who go to Clinton and say: "If you won't do the right thing ... we will. We are not going to let this go to the convention and risk the party." If Obama were to lose the rest of the states (something I do not see happening) then his super delegates will have a sit down with him. The time between no and Pennsylvania is an eternity in politics. Anything could happen. Spitzer may have impacted the Pennsylvania result -- we don't know yet. It certainly looks uphill and out of range for Clinton -- but Obama hasn't been handling these attacks very well -- I think after North Carolina we will know.

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Austin, Texas: If the Democratic nominating contest goes all the way to the convention in August (as now seems likely) something like eight months will have passed since the early races in January and February. How much will this time lapse affect the perceptions of superdelegates? Can Clinton create the perception that she's the front-runner (or at least the most electable) if she sweeps late races like Puerto Rico and (now) Florida?

Joe Trippi: I think polls with have a big impact. If all the public polls going into the convention somehow show Clinton defeating McCain and Obama losing to McCain then the perceptions of not just the superdelegates could change.

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Miami: Who do you think are the most vulnerable House candidates in this current electoral cycle? Here in South Florida we have three incumbent Republicans who seem to be pretty vulnerable, and yet two Democrats -- Meek and Wasserman Schultz -- have gone on record saying they will not support their Democratic challengers.

Joe Trippi: well this is crazy -- I think we can pick up these seats in Miami. I think Joe Garcia for example (someone I am helping) could win if he gets the support he needs, but we have good candidates who can win.

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Alexandria, Va.: If we assume this race continues to the point where party "elders" and uncommitted superdelegates are going to have a role in deciding outcome, how much of a factor will the fabric of the Obama campaign come into play, specifically the structure highlighted in the most recent Rolling Stone article. Is that not a structure that is scalable more broadly to the party in general (vs. the more top-down nature of the Clinton campaign)?

washingtonpost.com: The Machinery of Hope (Rolling Stone, March 20)

Joe Trippi: Yes it is a better way. But the Clinton campaign has gotten very bottom up this past month So I think the Democrat is going to have a big advantage over the McCain in the general.

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Washington: Two questions for you as someone with great familiarity on how campaigns work (I won't call you an "insider"): First, when we look back at the 2008 primary process, what will we say about the media's role in what has happened so far? Second, with regard to Ferraro's comments, do you think it is more likely she was going "off the reservation," or that she was taking a hit as part of a strategy to win Pennsylvania?

Joe Trippi: First off the media was preoccupied with Clinton an Obama from the get go. So nothing has really changed on that front and they will be seen in hindsight probably the same way Saturday Night Live has portrayed them. As for Ferraro -- I think someone as experienced as her, and a campaign that is experienced as the Clinton campaign -- they know that words matter, and it isn't an accident that these are the words that are being used.

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Los Angeles: The conventional wisdom seems to be that Clinton will win the Pennsylvania primary. Is that a lock, or does Obama have a shot at the win?

Joe Trippi: I think it would be a big surprise if Obama won PA. And it would be exactly the kind of surprise that would slam the door shut on Clinton. He could pull it off -- but I doubt it. The state is too much like Ohio and Gov. Rendell is much stronger politically in PA than Gov. Strickland was in Ohio for Clinton.

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Tempe, Ariz.: Hello Mr. Trippi! I worked for Dean in New Hampshire in 2003/2004, and am a huge admirer of yours. Though I am an Obama supporter, I greatly admired Edwards for flat-out saying (and I paraphrase) "if you're voting for me because you don't want to vote for a black candidate or a female candidate, don't vote for me." Clinton, on the other hand, seems to be silently courting the racist Democrat vote -- answering "not as far as I know" to the question of whether Obama is a Muslim, for example, and not condemning Ferraro for suggesting that all 13 million of Americans who've voted for Obama are "caught up" in his blackness. What are your thoughts on this? Thank you!

Joe Trippi: If this is indeed a strategy of theirs they have completely misread the mood of Democratic voters. Just the perception of this hurt them in South Carolina and really caused a shift towards Obama. I don't see how they think this helps them -- it clearly has not.

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Austin, Texas: Can Clinton try to argue that super delegates should ignore (or give less weight to) the pledged delegate totals on the grounds that caucuses are biased? Could she say something like "caucuses undermine voters who can't afford to spend two hours sitting around voting (e.g. working parents)"?

Joe Trippi: I don't think so. As I have said before if the argument is that "hey its not fair only ten people vote" Then why the hell didn't you just get ten people there? Kind of a dumb argument

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Re: but Obama hasn't been handling these attacks very well : How would you have advised him to handle them (I'm not being snarky -- I'm genuinely curious)? It seems to me that Obama is in a no-win situation: If he doesn't respond to the attacks of Clinton and her surrogates, there are opinion pieces and pundit comments on him being weak, too above it, holier than thou, won't get muddy, how can he fight the Republicans, etc. ... but when he does, it's all about how he is going against what he promised, tarnishing his image, etc.

Joe Trippi: If you are a new politics then be new politics. Give a major speech tomorrow that says: "The American people need to decide -- business as usual? Attack and Rip 'Em Up politics as usual? Or a new and different politics a break with the past. You need to decide once and for all which it is you want. Because I will give you that choice now and I will give it to you again in the general election if the Republican play the same game. It is not a game and I will not play -- the only question left is are you done with the game as well -- are you ready to get on with the serious work of saving this nation and our children's future -- because if you are -- lets get moving and leave the politics of the past in the rearview mirror."

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Joe Trippi: I am sorry we can't go on like this for hours -- because it has been a lot of fun. I promise to come back and do it again -- but I have to get going today.

Thanks everyone -- great questions.

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