WASHINGTON – With less than a week left before he resigns his post, senior White House adviser Dan Pfeiffer said Monday he has one regret from his time on the job.
“For the last eight years, I spent too much of this front seat for history with my face buried in my Blackberry,” he said. “There’s no major presidential speech I actually watched. I heard it and read my emails and checked Twitter while I was doing it.”
Pfeiffer, who has been with President Barack Obama since the 2008 presidential campaign, is leaving the administration Friday. He spoke Monday with Politico’s Mike Allen about his time in the White House.
“I wanted to soak in the last few days here, and use this as an opportunity to put this entire experience in perspective,” he said. “You know, I’ve been in sort of a nostalgic mood obviously these past few weeks.”
The former White House communications director, who was at one point known for his 4:20 a.m. wake-up call, said he looks forward to sleeping in past 5 a.m. after departing 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s already planning a post-resignation vacation and has a book picked out to read once he’s finished with his former colleague David Axelrod’s memoir, “Believer.”
The next book lined up is a novel: “The Whites,” by Richard Price.
“I don’t really know what I’m going to do Monday morning when I wake up,” he said with a clear sense of excitement. “That’s where I’m really going to focus on.”
The most recent work for Pfeiffer has been using digital messaging to bring the president’s message to voters.
He noted how much technology has changed the job of political communicators, specifically with the rise of journalists with large online followings, even if they’re limited to specific spheres. That means having enough to staff to reach out to people such as Paul Krugman and Tom Friedman of The New York Times, but also David Roberts of Grist, he said.
“The pace of change is so fast right now. I think the the campaigns are going to need a lot more people than we needed in, certainly, 2008,” he said. “You’re going to have to have people who are reaching out to influencers across the board.”
Political messengers are also taking advantage of new online mediums as they emerge, Pfeiffer said. That goes beyond Twitter — which he admitted was more quickly adopted by reporters than White House staff after Obama entered the White House. Surprising some in the audience, he said Snapchat and Instagram are how he expects Millennials to get their news.
“One of the coolest things out there right now is what Snapchat is doing with ESPN, CNN, Vice and some others through their ‘Discover’ function,” he said, referring to a new Snapchat feature that allows users to turn the photo-sharing app into a way to follow the news.
The president, he made sure to note, is not on Snapchat.
One of the ways Pfeiffer has changed the flow of online news himself came earlier this year when he posted the full text of the State of the Union on Medium before Obama delivered it.
He said he made the change in part because of the common “farce” in Washington of people thinking that the speech stays secret until the president takes the podium. Though the official State of the Union press release is sent to reporters on the condition it not be published until the speech begins, many reporters, Hill staffers and others in what he called “official Washington,” receive it via email beforehand.
After working in the communications role on Obama’s team through four national elections — two wins and two losses for Democrats — he offered a final piece of strategy for whoever ends up fighting to keep the party’s control of the White House.
“The success for any Democrat running is going to be how do you motivate the coalition who came out in 2008 and 2012, but sat home in 2010 and 2014?” he said, making sure not to refer to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton by name. “That I think will be the key for success for any Democrat — see how I did that?”
“You still got it,” Allen told him.
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