Inside the Mind of the World's Most Powerful Liberal Blogger

ByABC News
July 24, 2006, 9:23 AM

June 24. 2006 — -- For "Nightline," ABC News' Jake Tapper interviewed Markos Moulitsas, founder of the powerful blog Daily Kos. The following is a transcript.

JAKE TAPPER: What inspired you to sit down on that day, in 2002, and start blogging?

MARKOS MOULITSAS: This was early 2002, it was in the wake of the Afghanistan war, kind of in the run up in the Iraq war. It was a very stifling environment for liberal voices -- they simply did not exist, they were quieted down. If you criticized the president on any issue, domestic or foreign, you were accused of being un-American and unpatriotic.

Watch the full interview on "Nightline" at 11:35 p.m. ET.

And having been a veteran, having pledged my life to support the freedoms that the Constitution provides, and that our nation were founded on, I found it very, very insulting that I was told what I could and could not say. So, really, I was a reaction of that stifling political environment. And I think blogging, especially in a progressive blogosphere grew the way it did, because of that, because those voices were completely absent of the media environment at that time.

TAPPER: Why did you enlist? Were you in the Army?

MOULITSAS: I was in the Army for three years, between 1989 and 1992. And I enlisted because I was actually -- at the time I was actually a Republican, and I believed I was very much a military hawk at the time, and I thought, 'This is very quaint in today's world, in today's political environment.' But at the time, I thought that if was going to advocate for military involvement in various places, that I really needed to have served, that I'd be a hypocrite if I was not a veteran and I'd be talking about military action. Not thinking that I was going to be in politics or anything like that. You know, this was my personal life.

TAPPER: Just talking about your day-to-day life?

MOULITSAS: Exactly. I mean, to me it would be hypocrit[ical] to say we should bomb Grenada or invade Grenada, we should bomb Libya, if I had not been a vet.

Now, I went into the Army as a Republican, I came out as a Democrat, and it completely changed my outlook on a lot of things. And when you live side by side with, you know, your fellow soldiers and you realize that they're not a number, that they're actually human beings and they have families, it's a lot harder, I think, to talk about sending them to die for things that aren't really that important.

TAPPER: But you didn't see action during Gulf War I?

MOULITSAS: No, I was stationed in Germany at the time.

TAPPER: And what did you do?

MOULITSAS: I was in the artillery. I was actually a fire direction specialist, which is kind of a headquarters position. You manage the logistical flow of the missile battery.

TAPPER: What does that mean in English?

MOULITSAS: It means that there's three missile launchers. I was in a track vehicle. I was in charge of making sure that the vehicles were fueled -- the launches were fueled, that the troops in the platoon were fed, that there was enough fuel, ammunition, that sort of thing. So making sure all the other details that make a platoon work.

I mean, people don't realize, I think, that in a military action, front-line soldiers are really about 10 percent of the fighting force. Everybody else is really there in a support role, making sure they have the food, the ammunition, the fuel, the sort of things that make an army move. And so in that missile battery, I was in charge of making sure that my platoon, that my missile platoon, had all those things.

TAPPER: Did you know people who were killed in Gulf War I or injured?

MOULITSAS: No. There weren't that many. My entire post deployed. Our equipment was ready to go. I mean, had the war not ended as quickly, I probably would have deployed. You know, I find it ironic in a lot of ways that I'm glad -- maybe not ironic -- I'm glad that George Bush Sr. was in charge when I was in the Army because he knew how to fight a war unlike the current Bush. So had the current Bush been in charge at the time, I probably would've seen action.

TAPPER: How did he know -- how did George Bush Sr. "know how to fight a war"?

MOULITSAS: Well, clearly, I mean, he accomplished the objectives of the military action. He got Iraq out of Kuwait. He contained Iraq and with a minimum loss of life, without loss of prestige with our allies, using an international coalition that included countries such as Syria, which was unheard of, Arab nations in the coalition. Unlike the cowboy diplomacy, go-at-it alone administration today, we had people like Poland now saying, you know, our so-called allies saying we're not going to -- we're not going to go along with the United States if we need to take action in Iran. We've lost allies, we've lost prestige, we've lost 2,600 lives -- Americans -- and counting, countless civilians, and no end in sight. So I think I lucked out that I was serving at the time of George Bush Sr. as opposed to George Bush Jr.

TAPPER: How long did it take before you realized that your blog was actually becoming a force, that a lot of people were reading it?

MOULITSAS: I don't know. It's happened fairly gradually over time. And I still don't think it's as much of a force as people think it is. I know that blogs are trendy. I know that liberal bloggers are kind of the talk of the town right now, and God knows there's been plenty of ink spilled on how relevant we are and how we don't win anything, yet if we're so irrelevant and we don't win anything, I'm not quite sure why they keep talking about us. If we're irrelevant, just shut up and, you know, talk about what is truly relevant.

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that. Does the Daily Kos endorse candidates or support ...

MOULITSAS: We support every Democrat that runs for office. Now, some of them we focus on a lot more and talk about more. You know, we adopt certain races. It's not an endorsement. It's a blog of people who are committed to the Democratic Party. So this notion of endorsement, I think, is kind of silly, and it's an artifact of traditional media where you have to say, 'I endorse this candidate.' Well, we technically endorse every single Democrat in the general election.

TAPPER: You do take certain interest in specific races.

MOULITSAS: Absolutely.

TAPPER: You guys were behind Howard Dean's run for the presidency ...

MOULITSAS: Absolutely.

TAPPER: And Paul Hackett's run for the House.

MOULITSAS: Well, 'you guys,' I mean, it depends what you mean by 'you guys.' I mean, the ...

TAPPER: Your Web site.

MOULITSAS: It's very divided. I was a Howard Dean person. But the site, I mean, you know, I have contributing editors that help out on the site, and I had one guy who was a Gephardt supporter and another guy who was a big Wes Clark supporter. I think the networks at large [were] very much divided between the Howard Dean faction and the Wesley Clark faction.

So there's no -- there's no -- it's hard to say, you know, this is the blogosphere guy. And I think we're going to see that in 2008. There's not going to be any real consensus for any candidate. Maybe if Al Gore entered the race, we might have a consensus.

TAPPER: Do you, Markos, endorse candidates?

MOULITSAS: What I did last cycle, and I haven't done it this cycle, is I picked 15 races, not top-tier races. What I wanted to do is say, 'OK, the Democratic party has millions of dollars that is going to take to win these battleground front-line districts, and the Republicans are going to dump millions of dollars. If I raise $50,000 for a race, it doesn't really mean that much if a race costs $5 million to run, right?' What we wanted to do was expand the playing field and put pressure on lower-tier Republicans.

We targeted Tom DeLay in Texas. People laughed at us, and DeLay actually won with 51 percent of the vote. I mean, we -- 55 percent of the vote. It was a tight race, and it kind of showed that, well, this guy is actually vulnerable. He's not this big, powerful invulnerable person we thought he was. I don't think people would've known that had we not pumped in some money and some attention to Richard Morris, his opponent's race, in 2004.

So what we're trying to do is pin down these Republicans. Tom DeLay had never opened up a district office in an election since he first got elected in the '80s. He was forced to open district offices in 2004. So that's the sort of thing we're trying to do. If you're at home campaigning, you can't be on the role fundraising for other candidates -- you can't be campaigning for other candidates. And let the party, let the big money people actually put their efforts behind the front-line races. We're going to look at the second tier and the third tier and we're going to try to expand the playing field. And I think we did that very, very effectively. Of course, that means we're going to lose most races.

If I wanted a great won-loss record, I would put my money behind Hillary Clinton, you know, Senate race in, you know, in 2006. I would put my money behind every single incumbent because incumbents get re-elected at a 99-percent rate. You don't win very many races if you're focusing on challengers. What we're trying to do isn't to say, 'Well, look how great Markos has a great won-loss record.' What we're trying to do is expand the playing field, put pressure on Republicans and show that there's a Democratic party in places that haven't seen a Democratic [candidate] in decades.

TAPPER: So of the 15, how many -- how many won?

MOULITSAS: There were 17 in 2004. We won two.

TAPPER: You won two. Who were the two?

MOULITSAS: Stephanie Herseth in South Dakota, Ben Chandler in Kentucky. And actually, we also were very involved in the primaries in Illinois with Beck and Barack Obama. So Barack Obama was actually the patron saint of Daily Kos in 2004. So, three then.

TAPPER: Three. But your point is, your win-loss record is not great, but that's not the point.

MOULITSAS: I mean, I could have a perfect won-loss record had I so-called 'endorsed' every incumbent Democrat running for the Senate, because not a single one lost in the Senate in 2004. And in the House, the only incumbent that lost was one guy in Indiana and a couple in Texas that were redistricted out by Tom Delay. So, the goal, of course, was never to try to win as many of these races, like I said. The goal was to expand the playing field, put pressure on Republicans everywhere, force them to play defense, and wave the Democratic flag in districts that had not seen a competitive Democrat in decades.

TAPPER: And when you guys get involved, what does that entail? Obviously you're following the race, you're following developments, you're linking to news stories about each race. What else are you doing?

MOULITSAS: We're doing some -- we're doing some fundraising as well. The best benefit that blogs can provide a campaign is actually to build buzz. We write about them, we talk about them. The traditional media now starts picking up on races, you know, and generate[s] local stories. It provides earned media for the candidates we're supporting. It generates attention from traditional party organizations, the labor unions. And the issue groups that might not have even known that race existed and not have considered putting money into it now realize, 'OK, this is getting a lot of buzz, we're going to start putting resources into the race.' It motivates a lot of big-dollar donors to put money into these candidates.

So I think one of the biggest mistakes that the party makes and candidates do, when they look at the blogs, is that they think it's a money machine. And in fact, we're really a buzz machine, and if you create enough buzz, then by default -- and not really by default -- one of the side effects of buzz is money.

TAPPER: How much money do you think your readers and the Daily Kos community have raised for candidates?

MOULITSAS: You know, probably, you know, a little over a million dollars, which ...

TAPPER: For 17 races.

MOULITSAS: Last year, yes.

TAPPER: What about for Howard Dean?

MOULITSAS: I don't know because actually at the time, we didn't have a way to track that. So who knows? I mean, he raised $20 million online, so who knows how much of that came directly from our efforts. But that's a drop in the bucket. I mean, we're talking about an election in 2004 that cost $2 billion all sides combined to wage, and we were maybe a million dollars. So when people talk about the influence of the blog, really they're giving us way too much credit because we're not raising that much money. Now, one e-mail from MoveOn can raise millions of dollars, you know, one e-mail from MoveOn, when we could spend an entire election cycle working to fundraise and not raise that much money. So we're not a money machine. That's definitely now what we are.

TAPPER: You're a buzz machine?

MOULITSAS: We're a buzz machine.

TAPPER: In June, there was an event, you didn't organize it, but it's under your name. It's called the Yearly Kos. And you have it in Las Vegas, big important people in the Democratic Party -- you have the Senate Minority Leader, Harry Reid, you have a bunch of presidential possibilities such as Governor Richardson up in New Mexico, you have Wesley Clark, you have ex-Gov. Mark Warner, Gov. Tom Vilsack. How is it that you have all these big guys coming to kiss the ring of you and your fellow bloggers?

MOULITSAS: Well, it wasn't -- it wasn't me. I mean, that's ...

TAPPER: Well, it's called the YearlyKos.

MOULITSAS: Well, unfortunately. The organizers wanted that name.

TAPPER: Well, they wanted it for a reason.

MOULITSAS: The fact is that there's hundreds of thousands of incredibly motivated, active political partisans working on the blogs. These people generate buzz, it generates local activism. These aren't the kind of people that pay attention a little to politics, turn it off and then do something else. They live and breathe politics. And anybody that wants to build a movement or a successful campaign needs people like the people who read blogs. So we are a source of activism in a way that, really, I don't think you can find in this kind of a concentrated manner anywhere else.

TAPPER: There were a couple of candidate possibilities for 2008 that weren't there. Hillary Clinton was not there. Is it a mistake when candidates like Hillary Clinton don't show up for the YearlyKos?

MOULITSAS: I think there's very many paths to a nomination, and they don't all necessarily go through the bloggers. I don't think we're all important. I don't think we're king-makers. I don't think that we can make or break a candidate. I think we are a component, we are a piece of a larger piece of a puzzle. And so, no campaign is going to be able to have it all. No campaign is going to have all the money it needs, or all the media it needs, or all the staffers it needs or all the blog attention it needs. They're going to have various pieces, and there's more than one way to get to the nomination. I mean, Howard Dean is a perfect example. He was a blog deity in 2004, yet his Iowa operation was absolutely invisible. And he as a candidate, wasn't exactly the best candidate. He wouldn't say our message, you know, he had problems on that front. So all the blogging activism in the world wasn't good enough for him. Somebody like John Kerry had no blog support, no blog buzz. It didn't matter.

Now, 2004 is different than 2006, which is going to be different than 2008. Things change at the speed of light in this world. And so, maybe blogs are a little bit more important. I don't think they can make or break a candidate. I think they're going to be important to a certain degree. I think they can help somebody who's lesser known, somebody's who's lower down in the food chain politically. I think somebody like a Hillary Clinton doesn't necessarily need bloggers for people to know who she is and what she stands for. I think she's got all the -- she's got a big enough soap box, you know -- a bigger soap box than she'll ever need that we could ever provide in the blog world.

TAPPER: You say you can't make or break candidates and yet you actually caught a campaign commercial for Joe Lieberman's Democratic primary opponent, Ned Lamont. There was a TV ad featuring you. Why were you in that ad if you're -- if you're not that important?

MOULITSAS: Well, I'm not saying I'm completely unimportant, but Joe Lieberman -- this is a great race. We have a great candidate in Ned Lamont. We have a terrible incumbent senator in Joe Lieberman, absolutely a dismal senator. And ...

TAPPER: Well, let's talk about that for a second.


TAPPER: You've been critical of Democratic interest groups, the abortion rights community, the environmentalist unions. You talk about they want -- they want to win on their issue so badly that they ruin the opportunities for Democrats to win seats. And yet, you hate Joe Lieberman.

MOULITSAS: I don't hate Joe Lieberman.

TAPPER: You don't care for Senator Lieberman as a senator.

MOULITSAS: As a senator.

TAPPER: And your animosity for Joe Lieberman, if you look at his voting record, he is squarely in the Democratic camp on vote after vote after vote after vote, from every interest group. It seems to me that you don't like him because of his support for the war in Iraq. No?

MOULITSAS: That's an easy cop out.

TAPPER: Well, then why don't you like him? If he supported -- if had been against the war in Iraq -- would you be so against him?

MOULITSAS: It depends -- it depends. The reason we are, we oppose Joe Lieberman is because he enables the Republican agenda, he enables George Bush. He was, you know, he may vote with Democrats 90 percent of the time, but he only votes with them if it doesn't matter. When it really matters, Joe Lieberman isn't with us.

He was the last Democrat -- to me this is amazing. This is the reason I oppose Joe Lieberman. It isn't the Iraq war. he reason I oppose, I personally oppose Joe Lieberman is because during the Social Security battle last year, he was the last Democrat to fall in line with the Democratic caucus.

We had people like Ben Nelson from Nebraska, Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, conservative Democrats firmly standing with the Democratic caucus in opposition to George Bush's efforts to destroy Social Security, and Joe Lieberman would refuse to join this effort. He was trying to negotiate with the administration. He was the last person. And he only fell in line when it was obvious that George Bush's efforts had failed. So he wasn't helping the caucus. He was actually a source of problems. Of, you know, he was hurting party unity. He was hurting our efforts to defend a very valued and critical government program. That's the reason I lost all faith in Joe Lieberman.

The war is an issue. And, you know, I love people who talk about the war being the single issue when, you know, we're spending $250 million a day -- a day in Iraq -- and that could, that could, one, it could keep our budget deficit from being the insanity that it is today. It could fund a lot of government programs, it could do a lot of good, and so it affects everything. I mean, not including our soldiers who had lost their lives, and the families that have been impacted and the people who were injured. And it's not only a question of saying, 'You voted for the war.' The question of him not realizing, not refusing to accept the reality that things aren't going well. I mean, he furthers George Bush's talking points. When the issue was debated in the Senate a couple of weeks ago, Joe Lieberman led off for the Republicans. This is somebody who enabled the Republican agenda more often than not. That's why we're targeting him.