Published Tuesday, November 30, 2004 by the Wall Street Journal
Only the Grassroots Can Save The Democratic Party
by Joe Trippi
The staggering defeat of the Democratic Party and its ever-accelerating death spiral weren't obvious from the election results. Two factors masked the extent of the party's trouble. Without the innovation of Internet-driven small-donor fund-raising and a corresponding surge in support from the youngest voters, John Kerry would have suffered a dramatically larger defeat. And the true magnitude of the Democrats' abject failure at the polls in 2004 would have been more clearly revealed.
Mr. Kerry raised nearly half of his war chest over the Internet. He was so successful at this that he actually outspent the Bush campaign. But it was the outsider campaign of Howard Dean, reviled by most of the Democratic establishment, that pioneered the use of the Internet to raise millions in small contributions; Mr. Kerry was just the beneficiary as the party nominee. And it was the risk-taking Dean campaign that forced the risk-averse Kerry campaign to opt out of the public financing system. Had that decision not been forced on Mr. Kerry, he would have been badly outspent by George Bush; he would not have been competitive at all throughout the long summer of 2004.
Mr. Kerry's lead among young voters hid just how bad Election Day really was for Democrats. In 2000, voters between 18 and 29 split their votes evenly: nine million each for Mr. Bush and Al Gore. But in 2004, two million more voters in this age group turned out to vote. And while Mr. Bush won the same nine million, 11 million voted for Mr. Kerry. But when we set aside his two million new younger voters, the true disaster is revealed. In 2000, Mr. Gore and Ralph Nader won a combined total of 54 million votes. This year Mr. Kerry and Mr. Nader got 53 million (ignoring the two million new young voters).
Mr. Kerry was a weaker candidate than Mr. Gore. He lost so much ground among women, Hispanics, and other key groups, that the millions in Internet money, the most Herculean get-out-the-vote effort in party history, and the largest turnout of young voters in over a decade, couldn't save him. Had the young stayed home, the sea of red on the map would have grown to include at least Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and New Hampshire -- perhaps one or two more.
Meanwhile, Mr. Bush, received 50 million votes in 2000, and 59 million in 2004. He added nine million votes. That's because Karl Rove had a plan and the campaign executed it brilliantly. But the problem for Democrats is not Mr. Rove; it's that they're doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. That's the definition of insanity.
Since the Democratic Leadership Council, with its mantra of "moderate, moderate, moderate," took hold in D.C., the party has been in decline at just about every level of government. Forget the Kerry loss. Today the number of Democrats in the House is the lowest it's been since 1948. Democrats are on the brink of becoming a permanent minority party. Can the oldest democratic institution on earth wake from its stupor? Here are some steps to pull out of the nose-dive:
Mr. Trippi, who managed Howard Dean's presidential campaign, is a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School and an MSNBC commentator.
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