Once again, the 2016 presidential election broke with tradition. After every presidential election since 1972, the Institute of Politics at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government has held a conference at which the top staffers from candidates’ primary and general election campaigns and journalists discuss the election.
In past years, the participants have behaved civilly, treating one another as professionals.
Not this time.
Who Was There And Who Wasn’t
Top staffers from the Clinton, Trump, and Sanders, as well as nearly all the Republican participants sent representatives who participated in the two-day conference. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, was scheduled to attend but withdrew a couple of days before the conference.
Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, David Bossie, Tony Fabrizio, and Brad Parscale represented Trump.
Clinton staffers Robby Mook, Mandy Grunwald, Jennifer Palmieri, Karen Finney, Joel Benenson, and Teddy Goff represented Clinton. Jeff Weaver represented the Sanders campaign.
Trump’s spokespeople praised his talent for communication: getting news coverage, using social media to go directly to the voters, and controlling the narrative.
They argued that Trump understood and spoke to the concerns and anxieties of Americans who feel “forgotten,” while Clinton was not in touch with them.
The Clinton campaign began the discussion with two “headwinds” that impeded her progress:
- The Russian interference, hacking into John Podesta’s and the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC’s) emails, and
- The letter and press conference of FBI Director James Comey stating that additional emails related to Clinton’s private server controversy must be investigated.
Clinton’s representatives stated that their polls showed in the closing weeks before the election, voters who were considering third parties drifted back toward the two major parties. After Comey’s announcement, the move back to the Democrats stopped.
Trump’s supporters did not agree that the Russian intervention and WikiLeaks publication were necessarily important factors. They also pointed out that the Democrats never denied the authenticity of the leaked emails.
Clinton’s staffers believed that the press covered Trump’s statements and policies while harping on Clinton’s email server problem as reflecting a defect in her character.
An Election Without A Mandate?
Some of the most virulent disagreements concerned whether Trump had a mandate for his message.
The Democrats argued:
“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 2 1/2 million more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump.”
Kellyanne Conway turned to her people and said,
“Hey, guys, we won. You don’t have to respond. He was the better candidate. That’s why he won.”
Was Clinton Wrong About Bannon’s White Supremacist Connection?
Clinton’s staffers questioned Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as chairman and strategist because of his connections to the white supremacist’s “alt-right” movement.
Kellyanne Conway became angry and asked if the Democrats were saying she ran a campaign that welcomed white supremacists. She claimed never to have heard of the alt-right and said most people have never heard of Breitbart.
Still, probably the best point Conway made responded to the Democrats’ objections to Donald Trump’s comments that many people found offensive, such as those about keeping Muslims and Mexicans out.
“There’s a difference for voters between what offends them and what affects them.”
Featured Image: Screenshot Via ABC Video.