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Post-Election Forum: Trump's Team Have 'Ax To Grind'

At Harvard's Institute of Politics, the winner sets the tone, and the tone was "we won, you lost, get over it."
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There is a forum held at Harvard's Institute of Politics after every election these days in which media and campaign professionals sit down with Kennedy School of Government students to write a "first draft of history." The assumption is that everyone will play nice, and generally that is what happens. Attendees suspend their personal animosity in an effort to tell campaign stories and reflect on the past election from a contemporary yet emotionally calm perspective.

Not this year.

The panel on the general election featured Trump Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway, who took a "we won" attitude from the start. (Full audio of all the sessions from the meeting is at the Harvard IOP website.) The 11th Hour panel did not "both siderist" her responsibility for how the day turned out:

BRIAN WILLIAMS: It got heated especially on the topic of Trump's chief strategist, Steve Bannon.

[From the panel discussion, audio only]

DAVID BOSSIE (TRUMP CAMPAIGN): He's held to a standard that none of these other folks are held to...

JENNIFER PALMIERI (CLINTON CAMPAIGN): Dan, [Balz, Washington Post] if providing a platform for White supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, I am glad to have lost. Give me a minute, David. I am more proud of Hillary's alt-right speech, and I am happy to be losing.

KELLYANNE CONWAY (TRUMP CAMPAIGN): No you wouldn't.

PALMIERI: Yes. Yes.

CONWAY: That's very clear today. No you wouldn't, respectfully. How exactly did we win? No, go for it, Jen. I would like to know. Because I sacrificed the last four months of my life to do it. And we did it, and we looked at yes the electoral map of 270 because that's how you win the presidency.

PALMIERI: One of my proudest moments of her is her standing up and saying with courage and clarity in Steve Bannon's own words, and Donald Trump's own words, the platform that they gave to White supremacists and White nationalists, and it is a very, very important moment in our history of our country, and I think as his presidency goes forward, I am going to be very glad to have been part of the campaign that tried to stop it.


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CONWAY: Do you think this woman in 200 counties that President Obama won and Donald Trump just won, you think that's because of what you just said or that people aren't ready for a woman president? How about it's Hillary Clinton? She doesn't connect with people. How about the people who have nothing in common with her?

WILLIAMS: ....I don't think I've ever heard anything like that. What was it like?

KASIE HUNT: Look, when you walked into that room, you could cut the tension with a knife. And I don't think that anyone expected a moment like the one we just played to actually happen, but on the other hand, when it did, it was almost unsurprising, because these two campaigns showed up to continue fighting this election. The Trump campaign came to gloat about their win, and the Clinton campaign came to, really, defend her honor.

WILLIAMS: And to relitigate it, to a certain extent.

(On set)

WILLIAMS: The fact that there is just audio and no video almost increases the drama, especially when Jen Palmeri gets choked up. Nicolle, I assume you like the Harvard School better as a winning candidate than a losing candidate, but they were all magnanimous.

NICOLLE WALLACE: Here's the thing. I went in '04 after we won, and I went in '08 after we lost. In both instances, the tone is set by the winning campaign. When you win, it is your job to make the other side feel comfortable because you have the far easier job. The Trump campaign is so unique, because from the top of the organization on down, they are grinding axes like it's going out of style. And when you have won and you show up with an axe to grind, you throw off the entire dynamic. It's supposed to be what Andrea Mitchell just described, this first draft of history. So you answer honestly, in '08, for example, David Axelrod said, oh, we thought we were screwed when Sarah Palin gave that convention speech, it was so good. Biden said, oh, bleep bleep, and the winning campaign said, we thought we were screwed when you went to Germany. A hundred million people stood there. It's super frank and honest because the result had been had. This was so different, and particularly this exchange about race, because this is when I feel like the Clinton side feels like we're a country in danger. Yes, our side lost, but she lost and now there is someone who has given safe haven to White supremacy. That's how they feel. And Kellyanne Conway -- by the way, Kellyanne Conway and Jen Palmeri are the best on their side. They are like tigresses circling each other, and they're the best at what they do. So Kellyanne Conway thinks they won because of speaking to the forgotten man and woman of winning and Jen Palmeri thinks they lost because they gave safe haven to White supremacy.

KASIE HUNT: And there was great frustration at the media, as well, for a wide variety of reasons in each instance, but I think Jen Palmeri doesn't feel like there is anybody else saying what she said, that the media is not willing to call Donald Trump out on those things and call people what they are.

WILLIAMS: And I imagine, Andrea, there wasn't any mention that we got the election wrong.

ANDREA MITCHELL: The real argument is that everything turned after the second set of Comey letters, that that last 11 days they came out of the election winning and that James Comey changed it all. They're not acknowledging they got the battleground wrong or didn't send her to Wisconsin. There is a little bit of defensiveness there, but they are pointing out they think they lost the Philadelphia suburbs and the Milwaukee suburbs, the college-educated White voters and a lot of women. After that second Comey letter, and the follow-up letter two days before the election, or Sunday before the election. So they're very bitter about that, but certainly, as Kasie is saying, they feel like we were always asking -- our stories about Hillary Clinton were all about Donald Trump said this, can you react to it? Donald Trump? or, what do you think about even if it was a narrative they had put out, for instance, the extraordinarily emotional Gold Star father, you know, Mr. Khan, at the convention, Jen pointed out that a lot of what we asked about on the bus trip that came out of the convention through Pennsylvania and Ohio was about Mr. Khan because people were talking about Mr. Khan. Well, he was the emotional center of the convention. Yes, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton was talking about Mr. Khan. So it's not as though that wasn't part of the narrative as well. There is a lot of water. It's too raw, it's too soon, and as Nicolle said, the winner sets the tone and the tone was ugly.

HUNT: Two things on that. On the tone and the winner setting it, I think one thing that was a little bit revisionist on the part of the Trump campaign was them going in and saying, we knew we were going to win, and just none of you believed us. And the reality was at the time, as we all know, they did not believe that they were going to win and they came to most of the networks a week before and said, we're probably not going to win. I also think that the Clinton campaign, one of the subthemes that was very important, is the role that gender played in her loss. And Hillary Clinton specifically, as somebody who has taken slings and arrows for many decades in public life, and the Clinton campaign talked quite a bit about how they always heard the country is ready for a woman, but just not this woman. And Mandy Grunewald said, you know, if you look at the numbers, the way she polls, you would think she is a man. People say she is strong. People say she is ready to be commander in chief. And Mandy Grunewald said, we don't know when another woman of these attributes will come along. I've elected six women to the Senate. I don't know if we'll see another one like this. And she said, I didn't think this was the case. Hillary Clinton was treated unfairly all the time by the media. There were a total different set of rules. She really believes there are a different set of rules for Hillary Clinton.

WILLIAMS: Nicolle, having gotten to know you and the rest of our family on television, I think we've been surprised at how much at your level the professionals know and like each other. you guys are essentially all friends, and I know you talked to Jen Palmeri tonight.

WALLACE: I did, and we had a version of that conversation. Did you ever think she would be defeated by a man who boasted about grabbing a woman in the genitals? Pretty base, right? We talked about hidden stuff in the end, the hidden Hillary vote, the hidden Trump vote. I think there is hidden sexism. It is rampant. The first woman candidate from either party was defeated by someone who bragged about being a sexual aggressor, a sexual predator. I don't want to dance around the words. And he is someone who white supremacists are excited about. Those are cold, hard facts. What he said today is really important. He [Trump] had one line, it was about a sentence and a half long, about how we disavow hatred and division. That should have been the speech he gave today. He's not going to win over Jen Palmeri, but he could win over a lot of people who think it is appalling that White supremacists are excited about him. Appalling. I worked in public politics my whole career. I never knew a White supremacist to be cheered by George W. Bush or John McCain. It's not normal. When people get outraged that we're normalizing Trump, he was outraged by the voters because they elected him president. But there are pieces of his coalition that should never be given safe haven inside the Republican Party.

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