So, Did Trippi Know Something? Guess Not

Well, it’s 10PM Eastern time and with 88% of precincts reporting, here’s how CNN is calling the Iowa caucuses:

  • John Kerry: 38%
  • John Edwards: 32%
  • Howard Dean: 18%
  • Dick Gephardt: 11%
  • Dennis Kucinich: 1%

… which is pretty much how the polls called it. Looks like, as counterintuitive as they were, they were pretty much on the mark.

So what happens now? Well, it’s on to New Hampshire!



January 20, 2004
1:02 am

So does this signify anything about netroots? Broad but shallow? Or is there something about the caucus system that favors traditional organization? Or did organization style have nothing to do with it?
Just curious.

Jason Lefkowitz

January 20, 2004
6:59 am

My read on it is that it’s too early to tell. Certainly the caucus system is kind of an odd duck, in that people get together and actively try to change each other’s vote — so you can end up with situations where the candidate who wins isn’t the one who was the most commonly agreed-upon second choice (the consensus candidate), due to the operation of peer pressure and other group dynamics.
In this context, Dean may have suffered most from a kind of kamikaze attack from Gephardt, whose campaign in IA focused mostly on driving up Dean’s negatives. This did two things — it drove down the number of non-Dean voters who would pick him as a second choice (see for details), and it prodded Dean into going negative, which allowed Kerry and Edwards to position themselves as the “nice” candidates.
Is this an unrecoverable setback for Dean? I don’t think so. The Iowa caucus is a miserable predictor of who the final nominee will be. In 1988, Dick Gephardt won the caucus, and Dukakis ended up getting the nomination; in ’92, local boy Tom Harkin won it, with Bill Clinton getting only around 3% of the vote. On the GOP side, Bush Sr. even beat out Ronald Reagan in Iowa in 1980, and we all know how that turned out. (Then Bob Dole beat Bush Sr. in the ’88 GOP caucus… didn’t help him much either.)
The big story re: netroots, I think, isn’t failure but success, in that it got Dean to the dance in the first place. Remember that before he adopted his netroots strategy he was pulling Kucinich numbers. Now everyone’s shocked that he didn’t come in first. When you figure that the campaign Dean’s most closely resembles is Gary Hart’s 1984 insurgency, you see how much the new strategy helps — Hart never came close to being considered the front-runner, and he was far more charismatic than Dean.


January 20, 2004
2:26 pm

I think that Dean might be in trouble after his speech last night. Not because of the content, but because of the weird scream thing he did at the end. I thought someone threw a muppet into a woodchipper or something. The press have been playing it a lot (from Howard Stern to NPR), and it makes him look really off his rocker (I know he isn’t, but image is important).
I think the missing thing here on how everybody did last night is the tax issue. The top two guys wanted to repeal taxes “for the rich,” while Both Dean and Gephardt wanted to get rid of the whole Bush tax cut. This makes them look like tax raisers (which may be sound policy, looking at our deficit), and even a Iowan who might agree with full tax cut rollback might feel that someone who could be painted as wanting a Mondale style tax raise would loose in the general election (comercial: “Dean will Raise your taxes!” followed by a clip of his post Iowa Sqwauk thing). Electability raises its ugly head, and trumps both old and new style organization.

Jason Lefkowitz

January 20, 2004
6:11 pm

The squawk… (sigh) Yeah, I know. Drudge Report’s headline this AM was “DEAN GOES NUTS” in giant type. He was trying to fire up the people in that room with him, but stuff that works on people five feet away sounds terrible on broadcast (the squawk being exhibit A).
You’ve certainly got a point on the tax issue. Kerry was very explicit about how he was not going to “raise taxes on the middle class”. Which was one of the reasons I preferred Dean to Kerry; the gigantic deficit that we’re building up needs addressing now, and Dean’s one of the few candidates willing to take the political heat of telling people what it’s going to cost. Maybe the real take-away from Iowa is that caucusgoers would prefer not to be bothered with troublesome details like that…


January 20, 2004
8:49 pm

I think it’s significant if netroots can get you money but can’t get you votes when it counts. I’m saying *if*, mind you. New Hampshire will be a pretty big test of that.
I agree, the squawk may be the thing that does for Dean what The Tank Ride did for Dukakis (far more than Willie Horton).

Jason Lefkowitz

January 20, 2004
9:06 pm

My biggest fear for netroots isn’t what happens to Dean — it’s that people will think that netroots *is* Dean. That’s kind of what I hear in your comment, Sandy, that a Dean failure == a failure for netroots.
As the old song says, it ain’t necessarily so 🙂
I’ve talked today with several people who were on the ground with Dean’s team in Iowa and from what I’m hearing there were lots of issues going on there. Much of the failure seems to be centered in two areas: the “air war” (poor TV ads compared to Kerry’s) and poor local organization (lack of coordination between precinct captains and the campaign HQ led to them overestimating their “hard count”). Both these are conventional politics and only touch tangentially on netroots.
So don’t write me off just because Trippi doesn’t know how to count 🙂


January 20, 2004
10:01 pm

“netroots” also !== Jason Lefkowitz 😉
However, it may be a cautionary tale (I said may, don’t break out the Double-headed Scythe of Truth just yet) in that netroots don’t replace grassroots. In other words, it needs to be clear that netroots aren’t the New Economy v.2.1, Political Edition.
The other takeaway may be (note the may) is that a pure netroots campaign is not (yet) possible–it simply doesn’t translate into votes unless you have a plan to translate netroots into grassroots. Dean is the most netrooted campaign yet, with the possible exception of the Libertarian candidate to whom you’ve donated, Tara Sue. So there will be a “can netroots do it” lesson, fairly or unfairly, to come from this election cycle.
It ain’t over yet, and I may overestimate the intelligence of the camp that also says “oh, why can’t he smile more? That’s the problem.”

Jason Lefkowitz

January 20, 2004
11:30 pm

Oh, you’re 100% right about that. Anyone who claims that netroots eliminates the need for grassroots organization altogether doesn’t know what they are talking about.
In the best case, netroots provides new ways to help the grassroots function — like the Dean “Get Local” tool does — but coordinating the two is the big trick. Early reports are that Dean’s people didn’t do so well at it in Iowa. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done, though.
The big hope for netroots, actually, has never been that it would replace traditional grassroots organizing — it’s that it would obviate (or at least reduce) the need for the big-media “air war” tactics by creating new avenues for candidates to disseminate their message through networks of engaged citizens. *That’s* the setback here, in that Iowa clearly shows that netroots, in their current infant state, can be beaten down by concerted Big Media campaigns based around pretty faces and simple memes.
(See for more on this angle: “The last image these nice, thoughtful people had in their head was that of a frothing Dean and a smiling Kerry or Edwards, and that, more than any policy, blog, community spirit, or participatory motivating force, won out.”)
And one last note on the “squawk” — Doc Searls has a fascinating post today ( ) interpreting Iowa in the light of Walt Whitman:
“Each man and woman of you I lead upon a knoll.
My left hand hooks you about the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes and continents,
and a plain public road.
Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it for yourself…
I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.”
(from Song of Myself)
Leaders who point the way but ask their followers to travel it for themselves. It’s the antithesis of the freeze-dried, pre-packaged, sound-bited, no-attention-required politics we’ve had for the last few decades. Are we ready for it? Maybe, maybe not. But I’d like to believe that we are; or, at least, that we could be someday. Maybe that’s *my* song of myself 🙂


January 21, 2004
1:08 am

“Do I contradict myself? I’m big enough for that.
I’ve been eating burgers.”
Walt Whitman, before redaction 😉