Joe Trippi re-launched his idea of a $100 "revolution" at the Politics Online conference last Friday March 11. He plans to establish a website where donors can pledge $100 to the first Democratic candidate who promises to accept no more than $100 from any single donor. I was present at the conference to speak on the less glamorous topic of integrating political campaign databases, about which my firm knows a great deal. When Trippi painted a picture of a multi-million pot of money for the first reform candidate in the race, quite a buzz swept through an audience that was composed almost entirely of true internet believers. Trippi’s follow-up poll shows that about half of all Democrats are receptive to such an appeal.
Though I am doubtful about the specific idea myself, I understand why it is attractive. Trippi's $100 donation idea comes to grips with real problems in the way candidates are currently nominated, and also with the real roadblocks that prevent changing that process. For one, at present the only candidates who are taken seriously are the ones who have proven that they can raise lots of cash. His scheme would provide an entry, at least in theory, to a candidate who would not otherwise run for president, or might make a contender of one who could not raise much money in the conventional ways. Second, his plan would diminish the direct influence of large donors - those who can contribute up to $2100 to a candidate during the primary season.
I have the following questions about Trippi’s idea, and then a suggestion.
1) Why should I pledge money that might go to a crank like nominal "Democrat" Lyndon LaRouche - or, if the rules were set to avoid that scenario, to a candidate whom I might like, but whom I think has a poor chance of defeating the Republican opponent? This point is certain to rile those who disparage "electability" as a goal, but I am a partisan who wants to win so that Democrats can govern. I am sorry, but it is obvious that based on factors other than the ability to raise money, John Kerry or Howard Dean had a better chance in the general lelection than Dennis Kucinich or Al Sharpton.
2) How would I hold a candidate to his or her pledge so they would not just opt-out later, as did both Dean and Kerry, from public financing in the face of Bush's millions. I am not persuaded that the visibility of the pledge would make it self-enforcing.
3) Why should I be interested in a candidate who campaigns on how to campaign, rather than one who campaigns on how to govern? I am tired of the meta-campaign. I want a candidate who has thought through his or her positions on the major issues – and how to campaign on them. A candidate who has figured out ways to strategically locate him or herself in areas in which the party is weak with the public, who has come up with some new ideas or new ways to frame old ones, and, most of all, hs thought hard about how he or she would run the country. Clinton did this in 1992, and Hart did it in 1984. They ran campaigns that used issues effectively. I did not see that out of either Kerry or Gore – as much as I supported both of those good men -- to my monumental frustration.
4) Along those same lines, why do I want a primary process shaped so dramatically by the issue of campaign reform, which is, after all, a relatively minor issue? Won't we do damage to our party if our strongest candidates can be attacked because they might not subscribe to this fund-raising strategy?
5) How does Trippi's idea help us choose the best nominee for the party? The current system, which I would characterize as a buzz and money and pundits and insiders and electability primary -- followed by Iowa and New Hampshire and some actual voting -- is at least an extended interview process. Organized attempts by factions of our party, like the "MoveOn" primary in 2003, or this $100 revolution aim to give one faction -- online activists - more influence. Will that particular faction select the best nominee? How can we be sure?
Instead of focusing on one single issue and raising money around it, why don’t we put our heads together to see how we can use the power of the Internet to get the best candidates into the race, to support them, and help them put together the most enlightened campaign strategy? The draft Clark movement was a good model for how to persuade someone to enter the race.
The quest to modify the presidential nomination process so that it produces our best possible candidate for the presidency should really be located within the party as an organization. I would love it if our new DNC chair, an insurgent now in power, would take on this larger question, and do it with an open process in which we can all take part. I cannot think of a more important piece of business on which the DNC should focus.I plan to discuss this further in the days ahead.