Trippi on Bernie

Chris Cillizza published an interview with Dean ’04 campaign manager Joe Trippi today asking him to compare that campaign with Bernie Sanders,’ and got some interesting responses.

THE FIX: How much of what Howard Dean was experiencing in 2003 do you see in Sanders right now? Is there a key strain that runs from the Dean campaign directly through the Sanders bid?

Trippi: I see more big differences than similarities between the Dean and Sanders campaigns. It starts with the structure of the race. We faced three establishment Democrats not one. John Kerry, Dick Gephardt and John Edwards were three strong candidacies that were splitting the vote and donor support of the party establishment in 2003. So when we started to move we actually took the lead in national polls and in each of the key states.

Sanders faces a completely different problem. No one is splitting the party establishment with Hillary. She has it all to herself. When we were at 30 percent we had the lead. Sanders gets to 30 percent and he is still 25 points behind. The second structural difference in the race is born out of a similarity. Yes they both come from Vermont, a state that is mostly white. But Dean did not face in Kerry, Gephardt or Edwards any candidate that had a significant advantage or following in the African American community. In fact in poll after poll, Dean attracted more than his fair share of the black vote. Had we faced a Kennedy or a Clinton that would not have been the case. Sanders is going to have a much more difficult time overcoming Hillary’s advantage in the African American community and that is eventually going to be a big problem as the campaign turns to South Carolina and beyond. In fact if he can’t solve it, he can’t win.

These are both good points. Trippi goes on to suggest Sanders’ ace-in-the-hole is that the “party establishment” doesn’t take him seriously, and thus won’t work overtime to take him down the way it did HoDean. Now there are some of us who were around back then who don’t buy the idea that Dean was the victim of some sort of establishment conspiracy. Hell, shortly before his third-place finish in Iowa, Dean seemed well on his way to conquering the party establishment, with endorsements from Al Gore, Tom Harkin, Jesse Jackson, Jr., and even a young DLCish Baltimore mayor named Martin O’Malley. But it’s understandable that Trippi might find that theory more congenial than say, charges he over-spent on infrastructure in states the campaign never survived to contest, or suggestions Dean’s orange-hatted army of young volunteers alienated Iowa Democrats.

That quibble aside, Trippi’s forgotten more about how to run an “insurgent” campaign for president than most of us will ever know, so Team Sanders should pay attention.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.