Last week, Joe Trippi Tweeted that he felt the Brad Pitt baseball movie 'Moneyball' was a better representation of Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign than this coming weekend's new release 'The Ides of March.' It was an interesting observation for a couple of reasons: Trippi was Dean's campaign manager during the former Vermont governor's failed election run in 2004 and -- more important -- 'The Ides of March' was partially inspired by the Dean campaign.
Based on the play 'Farragut North' by former Dean staffer Beau Willimon, 'Ides of March' follows an idealistic campaign worker (Ryan Gosling) who learns the ups and downs of the political machine while on the trail with his candidate (George Clooney). Moviefone spoke to Trippi (who was a consultant to 'Ides' screenwriter Grant Heslov) about his observation -- which was less about 'Ides of March' drifting away from its source material and more about an organization applying controversial new tactics to win, only to have those tactics later emulated by opponents.
Why would you say that 'Moneyball' reminded you more of the Dean campaign than a movie based on the Dean Campaign?
I'd just seen 'Moneyball' and it was eerie how much it reminded me. It's about baseball, obviously, but it's really about what happens when somebody breaks down the wall of how it's always been done. There are elements of people in the characters I recognize, but it's not at all about what resembles the Dean campaign. Whereas, for me, 'Moneyball' was pretty damn close for what it felt like to be inside the Dean campaign.
Are there still any similarities left in 'The Ides of March'?
I heard things that I know I said. There's a line about "seventy-three Democrats have run for President," and I say that all the fricking time. And I said it 18 billion times during the campaign. What I'm saying is that there are elements. I don't think George Clooney or anybody wanted or thought it was about the Dean campaign. Not even the play, really, was about it -- in my view.
So exactly what is it about 'Moneyball' that reminds you so much of the Dean campaign?
With 'Moneyball,' all the institutions within the Democratic party -- all the institutional players within it -- thought we were insane. Thought it was a new system that was a fad and would never work. Guys on my own team thought we were crazy -- just like the coaches and the scouts. They thought we were all crazy. They were always trying to do it the old way and thought we were insane for trying to put the campaign together differently. The 20-game winning streak felt a lot like when we were on the Sleepless Summer tour. I'm not trying to make it an exact, "Oh my gosh, it's really about us" bullshit. And then two years later the Red Sox win doing exactly what those guy with the A's were doing.
So Obama is the Red Sox?
The thing that rang the truest to me is the Red Sox owner [John Henry], at the end, turning to Beane and saying that the first guy that breaks down the wall of how it's always been done always comes out the other side bloody. Well, trust me: I know exactly what that means. It turns out that the two movies that are out right now, the one that comes closest to giving you insight to what it was like inside the Dean campaign is 'Moneyball'... of all things. I wouldn't have expected that. I didn't expect it. I went to the movie and came out with a lot of bad memories.
You've worked for John Edwards. Do you think 'The Ides of March' is a better representation of that campaign. The idealistic guy that staffers find out is not so idealistic later on?
That's right. What I'd say about 'The Ides of March': it does an incredibly good job of being entertaining drama, but at the same time really capturing the cross pressure of idealism versus dirty, real-life reality. I think it does that better than any movie on politics that I've ever seen -- that is what that movie does. It captures exactly what it's like to be idealistically enamored with your candidate: believing in them and, at the same time, having everything at stake and you can't believe you made that decision. That you became part of that.
Do you see yourself in Ryan Gosling's character? That you had to make concessions for a guy who doesn't live up to his image?
That's everyone who's ever been a presidential candidate. That's something that happen to anybody who has been in any presidential campaign. That moment happens.
Why did Obama win and Dean didn't? Is it just as simple as "more money"?
The difference in a lot of ways was the money. Just like the Red Sox, it was the blend of the establishment and the new way. In other words: Obama was basically taking what works. One of the things that happened was -- you gotta understand, in 2003, there was no such thing as YouTube. Facebook was on one or two college campuses. There was something like 1.4 million blogs the day the Dean campaign was over; there were 77 million blogs the day Obama started. So they had even better data and stats than Dean and his guys had. They had better tools than we had to pull it off.
And it's not just Obama. The entire Democratic party -- and now all of the Republicans -- are doing the same things that got pioneered in the Dean campaign. That's not saying they're also not taking every new trick that Obama taught everybody. But it's the same thing with every team in baseball: It didn't change the game, but what happened is that it married those techniques with teams that had the most money. It's the same thing: now everybody in politics does the stuff we did. But we did it because we didn't have the money John Kerry and these guys had, so we had to come up with a new way to get the money to compete. And we did and we scared the shit out of them all, but we lost. Four year later, everybody's using the same stuff we were doing, but now they have money. The little guys were doing it, too, but it's not an advantage anymore. It's the status quo now. Beane stays in Oakland, it doesn't matter. He's still a small market team up against the big team that went to school on him. That's where I see the synergy: You went up against the status quo, you got bloodied, and what happened? They just steal it and move on. Some of those things are unbelievably the same -- including, by the way, throwing over my desk.
Have assumptions been made that if it happened in 'The Ides of March' or the play, it must have been something that you actually did?
In the play, in the second scene, Chris Noth [the campaign manager] is bopping the intern. The manager and press secretary is having the affair with the intern. We're there at the premiere and my wife is with me and I have to explain to her that I never slept with an intern. When I asked Beau, "Hey, dude, what's the deal with the manager doing the intern? Everybody thinks this is about the Dean campaign. Come on, dude." And he just looked at me and goes, "Joe, it's fiction, there's a lot that has to happen in a play over two hours to keep everybody entertained."
What's your grade for 'The Ides of March' and 'Moneyball'?
I give them the same score, but for totally different reasons. I'd give them an eight. I usually rank most movies a five -- like, I'm disappointed and I can't believe I wasted money on that, which happens to be a lot these days. These were both two very good movies. So, for me an eight is like a big deal.
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Photo: Sony Pictures