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September 29, 2007

Winning The Public Way (or: Getting Trippi With It)

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

I doubt that the spending caps that come with public funds will cripple Edwards in the general election, as Ezra and Markos think.  We aren't talking about a congressional campaign here -- we're talking about a race for president, where free media and ads from 527 groups are going to be way more significant than anything the candidates themselves put on air. 

The most significant ads of election 2004 weren't put out by a campaign, and they didn't hit a candidate who was bound by spending caps.  They were the Swift Boat ads, issuing from an independent 527 group and going on air after the Democratic convention.  Especially on the negative side, 527 ads are better than candidate ads, because the candidate doesn't have to take responsibility for them.  If Edwards winning the nomination means that you and I get to pick the pro-Edwards (or anti-whoever) ads of spring and summer by funding our favorite 527s, that's fine with me. 

A presidential candidate -- even one who can't run his own ads -- is one of the most-watched human beings on the planet.  Free media opportunities are all over the place.  If Edwards wants to hit back against an opposing ad, he just has to go on Larry King's show.  And if there's anything that the Edwards campaign has been good at in the Trippi era, it's free media.  From the Hair video to the poverty tour to the constant shower of policy proposals to the clear and powerful distinctions between himself and Hillary that caused most observers to call him the winner of the last debate, Edwards has been able to maintain the media profile of a first-tier candidate, without the first-tier money.  If there's a campaign that can win the free media game, it's the one that Joe Trippi is running. 

September 29, 2007 | Permalink


The higher the profile the race the less effect the ads have. I can't remember one single ad from 2000 or 2004. The one's that do an effect are often ones that aren't shown that often but grab free media attention.

In addition, I don't have any worries about the Democratic Party as a whole from the Unions, to activists, or to a nominee Edwards pulling together and getting our message out.

Posted by: AJ | Sep 29, 2007 5:40:51 PM

It seems like most people forget that the spending cap refers only to advertising. Remember all those awesome Kerry ads from the time he cinched the nomination to when he was nominated? Yeah. Me too.

Posted by: Clark | Sep 29, 2007 5:49:55 PM

Joe Trippi spent 2004 telling everyone who would listen (they didn't) that Kerry should abandon public financing.

Posted by: Soupa Doupa | Sep 29, 2007 5:57:36 PM

The only people who will really be hurt by spending caps are Democratic party consultants. I doubt I'm the only one who would be happy to see those bastards suffer a bit economically. God knows they've been telling Democrats to make most Americans suffer for over a decade now.

Posted by: soullite | Sep 29, 2007 6:16:44 PM

"The only people who will really be hurt by spending caps are Democratic party consultants."

And if one were jaded and cynical, one might conclude that much of this complaining by the blogs (much like their inability to pick a candidate this time) is based on wantting to feed from the same trough. Rather than trying to build a movement, at bottom, much of their analysis is based on building thier careers. That's why I am losing respect for a lot of the A list bloggers. Let's be clear. Even if they came out and supported say Clinton, I could argue with that as wrong, but I would respect that. But most of them- what are they doing? they are acting every bit as cautious as the Democratic leadership they loved in 2005 and 6 to lambast as out of step.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 29, 2007 7:06:53 PM

Exactly! Free media is the way to go! Because, you know, the media love Edwards! There's no way they would let Republicans slander him (after all, that's their job).

Posted by: George Tenet Fangirl | Sep 29, 2007 7:20:31 PM

It's not that they love him -- it's that he's been surprisingly good at getting his message through even when they don't like him.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 29, 2007 7:24:13 PM

I am realizing something- do people honestly think ads can counter what free media can do? If so, you really don't understand how little ads, in my opinion, affect how people vote. If I am wrong, please show me that its not more important to see what the larger media narrative is than in what ads one buys?

Posted by: akaison | Sep 29, 2007 7:56:07 PM

Uh...didn't the Kerry people say they held back on responding to the Swift Boat ads in part because they were worried about spending caps?

And Neil, if Edwards is so good at getting his message out in spite of the press...then a) why does he need public financing, and b) why is he trending down in every early primary state and nationally?

This is all pretty sketchy. Seems like the Edwards folks are twisting themselves into logical pretzels to avoid admitting the obvious truth: this is a sign of severe struggles for his campaign.

Posted by: mopper | Sep 29, 2007 8:10:14 PM

I think this really is a "cross that bridge when you get to it" conversation. I don't know that anyone has proved, in any comprehensive way, that "free media" work can replace advertising; but I think that would probably not matter if interest groups (presumably MoveOn and its members would be thrilled to fight the Edwards fight, for starters) step in and take up slack. The problem for Edwards isn't really that far down the road, though, and I think it would be more worthwhile to focus on what's between here... and there.

Posted by: weboy | Sep 29, 2007 8:15:53 PM

It's not that they love him -- it's that he's been surprisingly good at getting his message through even when they don't like him.

Really? Maybe among high-information voters, but they're not enough to win the general (or even the primary). Among low-information voters, the perception seems to be that Edwards is the most conservative of the three Dem frontrunners (while Clinton is the most liberal). Unless you're saying that folksy southern moderation is Edwards' real message, in which case a whole lot of high-info voters have been horribly misled.

Posted by: George Tenet Fangirl | Sep 29, 2007 8:17:27 PM

I think Edwards wants to maintain the high info / low info difference you talk about -- the low info side of that is why all those new SurveyUSA polls have him outperforming the other Democrats against the GOP in the south and midwest. The campaign strategy has always been to get enough high-info liberals to win the Iowa caucuses (which isn't impossible in a caucus system), then use the resulting media excitement to catapult through the rest of the early states.

What Edwards has managed to do is get a level of media attention in horse-race coverage closer to Hillary and Obama than Richardson and Dodd, while raising money that's closer to the amount the latter have than the former. That's what he needs, and that's what all these Trippi antics are getting him.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 29, 2007 8:42:14 PM

By the way, mopper, I never heard any Kerry people say that about their Swift Boat response. It doesn't even make sense, since the ads went up after the convention.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 29, 2007 9:11:07 PM

AJ, the issue is that the campaign is not allowed to communicate with 527s. So there goes the "pulling together."

Posted by: Sam | Sep 29, 2007 9:43:51 PM

Dunno Neil,

"The Times is basically covering the Dem primary as a two-person race is borne out by the numbers. We did a Nexis search and discovered that both Hillary and Obama separately each earned mentions in nearly twice the number of articles that mentioned Edwards. We found:

Hillary: Mentioned in 304 articles in the last three months

Obama: Mentioned in 302 articles in the last three months

Edwards: Mentioned in 171 articles in the last three months

This is thoroughly unscientific, admittedly -- but that's a big disparity.


Sorry about double posting this [see thread below]

Posted by: S Brennan | Sep 29, 2007 9:57:03 PM

Kerry didn't lose becauase of his lack of ads. It was his lack of response for over a month. He ignored it at first. And the ad by the swiftboaters isn't what made the swiftboating effective. Remember it was only a small ad buy.

'What made it effective was the free media coverage coupled with the sinking concerns the public already had about Kerry as flip flopper. Something they fear about all Democrats.

No amount of campaign skill, ads or spinning will make such a problem go away. In the case of the swiftboating, it was the viral nature of the coverage by the free press, and the way they covered it.

In the case of the later, they covered it as he said-he said rather than as a discussion of veracity. If you remember (which apparently you do not) peo like Jon Stewart among others attacked the free media for this very issue- namely- the false equivalency issue. That a lie was treated with equal weight as the truth because in an attempt to appear 'objective' they treated a lie, like a fact because the lie was by a Republican versus the truth by a Democrat. This is how the press has framed the debate between the parties. Not as a question of how can we find objective truth, but to pretend all arguments are subject and a matter of mere opinion. Like, in other words, there was no way to verify or not whether Kerry earned his medals or not. No amount of ad buy can overcome the power that viral media has to overwhelm the narrative in favor of such structural bias. As Stewart so ably said to Ted Koepple (and I will never forget this line but to paraphrase it) "what you are doing and what the press is doing is enabling liars. That if you treat the truth as equivalent to a lie, then its impossible to discern which is which." No amount of Clinton ad buy or Obama will solve this.

Kerry's failure was to come out a month after, finally, with a press conference, and when he did- remember what he did- he asked Bush to call off his attack dog. In other words, he came across as needing bush to stop the attack rather than just calling the swift boaters ball faced liars, and saying to bush- you are coward to hide behindt he liars. Remember he never called bush once a liar for the things he said and did. He never called him on being a coward during Vietnam. As my friend said- there is something wrong with this country when a coward can question the patriotism of a war vet. But then that this happened was indicative of Kerry several decades latter and his character flaws. As she also said- if he couldn' handle the swiftboating- how in the hell could he handle a terrorist. She voted for Bush. He was afraid to call a duck, a duck. that's why it worked. Not becuase of any advertisement.

By the way, this conversation is highly representative of how short term the American memory is. Things go do the memory hole that should be fairly easy to remember. It was only 3 years ago for God sake. That you framed it as you did- means your memory is shit just like most of the American populance.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 29, 2007 10:16:39 PM

Do any of you peo work in the private sector. Apparenlty not for your inane comments. Companys that dont work together make decisions all the time that reflect they are paying attention to each other. All one has to do to 'coordinate" here is to pay attention what each organization is doing. By your logic- one participant in a market could never figure out the price that another participant is charging customers because they aren't coordnating. Coordination doesn't have to be an overt or even covert thing- it can be a pay attention to what others are doing thing.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 29, 2007 10:22:44 PM

Sam, pulling together need not involve explicit communication. I can know what a public figure is thinking, and what to do on their behalf, without their talking to me.

S Brennan, that's a disparity, but not a huge one. I don't know what the Richardson numbers are, but I'm sure they're well below Edwards.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 29, 2007 10:26:09 PM

gonna be a long ugly summer, with a level of bitterness within the party i can only compare to 68 or 80

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Sep 29, 2007 10:40:44 PM

Fuck this. I was really wanting a reason to write Edwards off, just to consolidate the Anti-HRC vote.

Posted by: yoyo | Sep 29, 2007 11:25:16 PM

and thus we finally get an honest response on here by yo you- looking for an excuse.

Posted by: akaison | Sep 29, 2007 11:30:01 PM

Excellent post, Neil. I agree.

Posted by: Tom Wells | Sep 30, 2007 12:13:51 AM

"Uh...didn't the Kerry people say they held back on responding to the Swift Boat ads in part because they were worried about spending caps?"

No. At the time they said they held back because a strategic decision was made that responding would just make it a bigger story. They actually thought at the time that if just ignored the story, it would die of lack of oxygen. They could have launched a 2 or 3 million dollar ad buy at the time without batting an eye, had they wanted to.

In fact, they spent quite a while refusing even free media avenues to respond, not letting high level folks of the campaign go on air to discuss the issue.

Two years later, the Kerry high command came out spinning this week that the "real" reason they didn't respond to the Swift Boat attacks was the evil of public financing. This is a two-fer for the Kerry folks: it allows them to confuse the historical record about their own campaign-losing incompetence, and it allows them to take yet another shot at Edwards, whom they resent for running in '08 without deferring to Kerry.

Posted by: Petey | Sep 30, 2007 5:20:51 AM

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