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Howard Dean and Joe Trippi

I'm not sure yet what to make of Joe Trippi's replacement as head of the Dean campaign. On one hand, Trippi deserves a lot of credit for doing what people said couldn't be done. Remember only a year ago when everyone thought Dean was a long-shot? He confounded the punditry by propelling the Dean campaign to what many of the pundits were calling "front-runner status." Trippi has been tremendously successful by any rational measure.

Nonetheless, it's true that Dean didn't get the results he wanted in Iowa and New Hampshire, despite spending more money ($9.2 million) overall than John Kerry ($6.9 million). Dean spent almost $6 million in Iowa and New Hampshire, and didn't win either. When you consider that in America, people usually vote for the guy who spends the most money, it's fair to wonder whether the Dean campaign should be trying something different.

I'm not saying it's Dean's fault, or Joe Trippi's. The decision of the national media to hammer on Dean for weeks leading up to Iowa surely played some part in the disappointing results. But the fact is, Dean isn't getting the results he wants. The question is, what should change?

Maybe, of course, nothing. Perhaps nothing Dean could try would persuade voters to vote for himself over John Kerry. But let's be realistic; most political campaigns can reliably influence voter behavior, and it's empirically true that most of them succeed by spending more money on television. Sad, but true. The probability that Howard Dean is some rare exception to this general rule is small.

So what's left? In professional sports, if the team isn't winning, the coach gets the boot, even though the players are fumbling too much, not scoring enough power-play goals, or failing to grab enough rebounds. The theory is that the coach has a lot to do with the poor performances of the players. If Joe Trippi were a coach, no one would be surprised that he got fired.

I support Howard Dean because I think he's the best candidate running for President. I'm amazed at Joe Trippi's success at moving Dean from the status of obscure to the status of major candidate. But the results in Iowa and New Hampshire need to be taken seriously and not ignored. Firing Joe Trippi might not be the best response, but no one can know whether it is or not. It's a judgment call.

One idea that's probably clearly wrong is that Trippi's absence will cool the enthusiasm for Dean. The suggestion that it will mischaracterizes Dean supporters in the same way that Dean's opponents often try to do. Here's the New York Times:

But if such a dramatic move was necessary to signal understanding that something has gone awry, losing Mr. Trippi who may be followed by several top loyal aides is risky, since he has become a sort of cult hero to the legions of Deaniacs at the core of the movement.

Again, the suggestion is that people who support Dean form some kind of a "cult." Where is the evidence for this? How are Dean supporters any more "cultish" than Kerry supporters? This is an example of why many Dean supporters suspect the national media hasn't been fair to their candidate. If you're going to refer to "Deaniacs," let's start referring to "Kerryacs" and "Edwardsiacs" too, please.


"When you consider that in America, people usually vote for the guy who spends the most money"

Is this true in Presidential races? I had heard it bandied about that the last few races had seen the Democratic candidates far outspent by the Republicans, who have lost the popular vote in the last 3 in a row.

It also wasn't true in the 2002 Georgia gubernatorial or senate races.

I wonder if this is a correlation/causation problem, where the candidate that can raise/spend the most money has the popular support, and so the support translates into the money and votes more than the money translates into the votes directly.

Regarding Dean in specific, I always felt his problem would be, despite his core of support (including me), where the undecided went and where people went as candidates dropped out...and so far, the answer has been what I was afraid of, namely "somewhere else".


Tom Schallert at Daily Kos had to my mind an excellent "explanation" of why Kerry won; a twist on the "buyer's remorse" hypothesis (emphasis in the original):

But then it struck me: Sure, the core Dean supporters who opposed the war all along have long backed him, and most likely remain with him. But many of the non-core Dean supporters within the Democratic Party evolved on the Iraq issue to the point where, although they may side with Dean now, they did not start where Dean started. In fact, they probably started where Kerry and Edwards started: supporting the invasion, albeit with a sense of unease. Because their transformation more closely mirrors Kerry than Dean, voting for Kerry is more affirming. (Sample internal monologue: "Hey, if John Kerry was fooled and feels betrayed, well, I can understand that because I feel the same way.") On the other hand, a vote for Dean is a reminder that you believed in the president and his plan all along.

A lot of pundits say Dean's collapse can be attributed to buyer's remorse among Democrats who initially "dated" Dean, but have since "married" Kerry. Correct concept, wrong application: Dean is folding because of buyer's remorse, all right - but because he reminds Democrats of what Bush sold them a year ago, not what Dean is trying to sell them now.