Joe Trippi's Renaissance

The day he resigned as Howard Dean's campaign manager, Joe Trippi packed his truck and drove down I-95 from Burlington, Vermont to his Maryland retreat, swearing to everyone who reached him on the telephone that he was done, forever, with presidential politics.

The Dean campaign, once the life of the primaries, was bradycardic. Trippi, who tends to ruminate, was convinced that his reputation was ruined. He expected to be blamed for collapse of the Dean campaign after he put body and soul building it. Indeed, his critics thought his mismanagement contributed to Dean's woes. Trippi allies point out that he never had full control over the campaign's finances.

Trippi was also sick. Years of unchecked diabetes and a diet consisting principally of snack food and Diet Pepsis enervated his ambition. He suffers today from diabetic neuropathy, and will, in mid-conversation, double over in silent pain.

After the falling out, Dean was angered by, then bemused by Trippi. Many consultants poked fun at his foibles. He has an outsize personality, is at turns loyal and generous and critical and demanding, thinks laterally and narratively, and tends to fill a room. He would be the first to admit that he is not easy to get along with. Having covered the Dean campaign, I've been yelled at by Trippi many times, often for writing stories he did not like, occasionally for asking silly questions, and inexplicably, for simply writing about him.

He dissolved his longstanding business partnership with Steve McMahon, noodled around at home, tried to bring the old band together after the Dean collapse (remember the Cummings Creek Compact?), and helped a few down-ballot campaigns on the side. He was an MSNBC commentator for a while, wrote a successful book, and was a fairly well-recieved speaker on the circuit.

All the while, the Democratic Party adopted Howard Dean as party chairman, employed the tactics, and puzzled through the ideas that Trippi was among the first to articulate. As chronicled in Matt Bai's new book about the "billionaires and bloggers" who remade the Democratic Policy, liberals began to build an infastructure to harness the energy that propelled Howard Dean's candidacy. If Howard Dean's ideas elected Democrats in 2006, so did Trippi's brand of politics.

This cycle, three presidential candidates courted him. He signed on with ex-Sen. John Edwards after bonding with Elizabeth Edwards -- there's a whole separate story here about how he's fitting in. But he's in. That "Hair" video -- vintage Trippi. Edwards hired Trippi in part because Iowa is Trippi's specialty -- he helped Walter Mondale and Dick Gephardt win the caucuses -- and Edwards needs to win the caucuses.

The small-dollar Internet donor base attracted by the Dean and flogged relentless by Trippi has transformed the party's fundraising. Democrats actually counterpunch these days. Every single campaign uses Trippi-patented tactics to raise money. The men and women Joe Trippi cultivated on Dean's staff have stormed the gates and occupy positions of power in major party and campaign offices.

This isn't Hagiography Friday. It's just a rare story of redemption in politics.