Our final book of the semester was Joe Trippi‘s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Democracy, the Internet and the Overthrow of Everything. Currently an election analyst and commentator at CBS, Trippi is a “political wizard” who has worked for several presidential campaigns. The high point of his career was the Internet-based presidential campaign of then-Governor of Vermont Howard Dean.
The methods and tools Trippi used during the Dean campaign can be credited with laying the foundations for Barack Obama‘s wildly successful candidacy. Marc Ambinder, political blogger at The Atlantic, says this on the back cover of Trippi’s book: “He is responsible, as much as any single person, for willing to life the innovations in thought and practice that gave rise to the Obama campaign and the Democratic Party‘s grassroots reformation.” The brand of campaigning that Trippi invented with Dean was improved on and mastered by Obama’s staff.
A common theme with the handful of successful Internet campaigns thus far has been the lack of a frontrunner candidate. Those running for office who’ve reaped the benefits of taking the fight to the Web have been insurgent candidates, like Obama, Virginia Senator Jim Webb, former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura, Montana senator Jon Tester, etc. Even candidates who ended up losing (Dean, Ron Paul and Ned Lamont to name a few), but had tremendous online success, were insurgents.
It begs the question of whether or not a frontrunner candidate can successfully use the Internet, or if the Web only helps insurgents. I think that more and more, we’ll see frontrunner candidates begin to harness and perfect online campaigning, as soon as the 2010 elections. Anyone in office who turns a blind eye to the success Obama had is committing political suicide. Campaigning and politics is changing, and as Trippi says, the politicians need to adapt and they need to get it.
There are a couple of more reasons I think frontrunners will eventually enjoy success via the Web. The obvious one is that Obama will be up for re-election in 2012. Unless the next four years are even worse than the Bush administration, he will be a clear frontrunner. Do you really think he won’t have success on the Internet because he’s a frontrunner? My second bit of reasoning comes from Hillary Clinton‘s failed presidential campaign.
Despite the recommendations of Trippi to run a Web-based bottom-up campaign, the Clinton team stubbornly refused and ran a traditional top-down campaign. In Feb. 2008, when the campaign was running out of money, they finally decided to take it online. So what happened? By the end of the month, Clinton had raised $35 million, almost all of it from Internet donations. It was too little too late though as Obama’s campaign was too strong a force to rally against. If Clinton had taken the bottom-up approach and hit the Web from the very beginning, when she was the clear favorite, we may have been talking about her making history and not Obama.