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The Journal Gazette

December 02, 2016 1:01 AM

Campaign rivals' aides erupt at forum

Washington Post

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The raw, lingering emotion of the 2016 presidential campaign erupted into a shouting match Thursday as top strategists of Hillary Clinton’s campaign accused their Republican counterparts of fueling and legitimizing racism to elect Donald Trump.

The extraordinary exchange came at a postmortem session sponsored by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, where top operatives from both campaigns sat across a conference table from each other.

As Trump’s team basked in the glow of its victory and singled out for praise its campaign’s chief executive, Stephen Bannon, who was absent, the row of grim-faced Clinton aides who sat opposite them bristled.

Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri condemned Bannon, who previously ran Breitbart, a news site popular with the alt-right, a small movement known for espousing racist views.

“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am proud to have lost,” she said. “I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager, fumed: “Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?”

“You did, Kellyanne. You did,” interjected Palmieri, who choked up at various points of the session.

“Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters?” Conway continued. “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?”

Joel Benenson, Clinton’s chief strategist, piled on: “There were dog whistles sent out to people. … Look at your rallies. He delivered it.”

At which point, Conway accused Clinton’s team of being sore losers.

“Guys, I can tell you are angry, but wow,” she said. “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?”

The session was part of a two-day forum that the school’s Institute of Politics has sponsored in the wake of every presidential election since 1972. It gathers operatives from nearly all of the primary and general election campaigns, as well as a large contingent of journalists, with the stated goal of beginning to compile ahistorical record.

Generally, the quadrennial gatherings are frank but civil ones, in which political operatives at the top of their game accord each other a measure of professional respect.