Emotions are still very raw between the Clinton and Trump campaigns. Trump aides want to gloat. Clinton aides believe the Trump camp used hatred, bigotry, and racism to win the election. And now they’re all together for a postmortem meeting. What could possibly go wrong??
On Thursday top Clinton campaign staff members met with top Trump campaign staff for a postmortem session at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. The meeting is part of a two-day event sponsored by the school’s Institute of Politics. This forum is a tradition following presidential elections and has been hosting the opposing campaigns since 1972.
The goal of the forum is to get top aides from all of the campaigns participating in the primary and general elections together with journalists to begin to compile a historical record of the race.
This year’s forum was the first time since the election that both the Clinton and Trump camps were speaking face to face. And it didn’t go well.
Reporters in the room said that Hillary’s team was clearly disappointed. But they said they were surprised at how angry and ungracious Trump’s team was.
One of the big points of contention was over Trump’s campaign chief executive Steve Bannon. Team Trump gloated and praised Bannon. Which seemed to infuriate the Clinton camp who believes Bannon to be a leading voice in the alt-right movement promoting White Nationalism.
Clinton Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri said,
“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost. I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, visibly incensed, snapped back,
“Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”
“You did, Kellyanne. You did,” answered Palmieri who got choked up several times during the meeting.
And the session went downhill from there.
Conway: “Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters? How about, it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about, they have nothing in common with her? How about, she doesn’t have an economic message?”
Clinton chief strategist Joel Benenson: “There were dog whistles sent out to people. . . . Look at your rallies. He delivered it.”
Conway: “Guys, I can tell you are angry, but wow. Hashtag he’s your president. How’s that? Will you ever accept the election results? Will you tell your protesters that he’s their president, too?”
During the heated discussion, Hillary’s campaign manager Robby Mook admitted that they made some mistakes and miscalculations. One of the problems Hillary had, according to Mook, was that she didn’t get enough of the youth vote. They needed 60%. But they only got millennials in the high 50s. And that just wasn’t enough.
Hillary’s team also faults FBI Director James Comey for interfering in the election. Clearly the Comey statements had a big impact.
Team Trump defended Trump’s offensive words and behaviors throughout the campaign by basically saying voters didn’t care about it.
“There’s a difference for voters between what offends you and what affects you.”
Clinton’s aides also believe that Hillary was held to a completely different standard than everyone else. The email coverage was one example.
Palmieri said the email story would go down in history as “the most grossly overrated, over-covered and most destructive story in all of presidential politics.”
Palmieri: “If I made one mistake, it was legitimizing the way the press covered this story line.”
Mook: “The media by and large was not covering what Hillary Clinton was choosing to say. They were treating her like the likely winner, and they were constantly trying to unearth secrets and expose.”
Mook also pointed out the difference between the way the press covered Hillary’s emails compared to how they covered Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.
Conway: “Oh, my God, that question was vomited to me every day on TV.”
Cory Lewandowski: “This is the problem with the media. You guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it. They understood that sometimes — when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar — you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.”
Clinton consultant Mandy Grunwald: “I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for the negative campaign you ran.”
“You guys won, that’s clear. But let’s be honest. Don’t act as if you have a popular mandate for your message. The fact of the matter is that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.”
Kellyanne Conway seemed very defensive about the popular vote. After Grunwald’s comment, Conway turned her head to the side and said, “Hey, guys, we won. You don’t have to respond. He was the better candidate. That’s why he won.”