Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Will Joe Trippi Bring Down Edwards?

Despite the recent dust-up over the "inclusive" vs. the "populist" strategy, the differences between Edwards and Obama in terms of policy are tiny. And looking at the whole package, my guess is their general election campaign and governing styles wouldn't be all that different. Given his past record, I doubt Edwards would run the full-throttle populist campaign Krugman is hoping for, and likewise Obama isn't the centrist pushover some have made him out to be.

On one major point, though, the Obama and Edwards campaigns differ markedly. Obama has run a highly professional campaign, with tight coordination and agreement between the campaign's three principals: David Plouffe, David Axelrod, and Obama himself.

Edwards, in contrast, has allowed his operation to be hijacked by Joe Trippi. The fact that Edwards would hire Trippi at all casts serious doubt on his judgment and I think it may well spell doom for his campaign. Sure enough, according to accounts I've heard, Trippi has repeated for Edwards exactly what he did for Dean, waging vicious power battles that have left the campaign organization in tatters.

Few in the media and the blogosphere have explained how Trippi wreaked havoc in the Dean campaign. I think this is because Trippi himself has been successful in spinning the Dean story and placing the blame for Dean's loss elsewhere, and also because those who would tell an alternative story kept quiet. Dean himself, as is his style, mostly declined to blame anyone but himself. And the other staffers who were close enough to see what happened mostly continued to work in politics and were not eager to attract Trippi's ire.

The one press piece that did a good job of explaining the dynamics of the Dean campaign was this long July 2004 U.S. News and World Report article, which seems to have completely escaped notice in the blogosphere.

Working in the Dean campaign headquarters in Burlington, I saw close-up just how much damage Trippi did. While his job was campaign manager, he made no effort whatsoever to actually manage the campaign. It's not only that there were differences of opinion in the campaign (as is normal), but there were not even any efforts to forge a working consensus. He was in a permanent state of war with, among others, both Dean's longtime aide Kate O'Connor and policy director Jeremy Ben-Ami.

As the U.S. News article accurately describes, senior staff had to find ways to work around Trippi, to get decisions made and executed despite his presence. Like an abusive husband, he alternately bullied and engaged in bouts of self-pity.

Apart from his absolute incompetence when it came to management, he also was more interested in making a stir than in winning. I recall a meeting I had with Trippi and Bill Greider, the author, Nation writer, and one-time Washington Post editor. Greider then said that he wouldn't suggest that a man who hoped to be president voice many of his own populist ideas (particularly the anti-business, anti-globalization views he pushed in his book One World, Ready or Not). Trippi replied that he would much rather that the campaign "make a statement" and LOSE than that it win expressing more conventional views. I sat there with my mouth agape, for I was there to win.

To be sure, Trippi was visionary in recognizing the organizing and fund-raising power of the Internet. Had it not been for the Internet operation that he initially put in place, Dean would never have had the spectacular early fundraising that made him a viable candidate. However, his value was entirely in the early stages, and in every other respect, he was destructive to the campaign. If Dean had cut Trippi loose and brought in a serious campaign MANAGER in August or September of 2003, everything would have been different.

Now Trippi has charmed his way to power in the Edwards campaign. My guess is that his presence will be so destructive that the Edwards campaign may all but collapse, if not in Iowa, then in the later stages. I hope that if Edwards does manage to triumph in the primaries and end up as the nominee that he sees the light and ejects Trippi from the campaign. As Atrios has said, we need a nominee who plans on winning.

1 comment:

Third Rail said...

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