American Consequences - January 2018



real fast – with a recognition of its power to attract like minded supporters instantaneously from everywhere all at once. They took as their model, a huge website founded to organize opponents of Bill Clinton’s impeachment in 1998 and 1999. Trippi used a free website called to connect potential Deaniacs to the campaign and to one another. By the end of 2003, Dean had raised $50 million, breaking his own record at the end of every quarter throughout the year. The majority of the money arrived over the web in increments of $100 or less. And he had fielded a mailing list of 600,000 committed volunteers.

Fi and created a website for messaging and donations. The Internet trappings made the crotchety grandpa (McCain was 64, ten years older than Bush) seem hip. Almost. Everyone in the political world – including the McCainiacs – were astounded when dark horse McCain trounced frontrunner Bush in the all-important New Hampshire primary. And they were even more astounded the next day. The McCain staff watched in disbelief as the meter on its donations page went up and up and up until it hit tilt! Without lifting a finger, McCain raised half a million dollars in twelve hours, a record that only the web could have made possible. His organization also had captured the email addresses of thousands of potential volunteers. Aha. Strange as it seems today, it was those mossback Republicans, led by Bush that fall, who registered these first stirrings of Internet disruption, not merely in fundraising but in advertising too. Bush’s campaign put up ads on dozens of (relatively) well-trafficked sites, reaching millions of voters at near-zero cost. The Democrats timidly limited themselves to a single ad on Yahoo. This tardy recognition of the power of the Internet is all the more remarkable when you remember that their candidate, Al Gore, invented the damn thing. By the next election, in 2004, Democrats anonymous former Vermont governor named Howard Dean, hired as his campaign manager a youngish consultant, Joe Trippi, who was well-versed in the web. They combined the insight from McCain’s campaign – that the Internet enables you to raise lots of money had got it figured out. Another “anti- establishment” candidate, a politically

Unlucky for Dean, the Internet also alerted millions of voters to the fact that he was sanctimonious, short- tempered, and far too intense for prime time – in short, a pretty scary candidate.

To understand how astonishing these numbers are, consider the Paleolithic era, back in the 1970s and 80s, when a group of con artists called the “direct mail industry” were fleecing thousands of campaigns (and businesses, too). Direct mail professionals – I use the term loosely – were hired by campaigns to solicit money from likely donors using information they had physically collected from voting rolls or bought from their colleagues in the industry. Direct mail was a cumbrous process. It was lengthy and


January 2018

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