There were moments when watching the Trump and Clinton campaigns discuss the election at the Campaign Managers Conference at the Harvard Institute of Politics was like watching The Jerry Springer Show without the chair-throwing (or paternity disputes).
The 2016 campaign was an ugly, knock-down, drag-out fight between two different visions of America. So it was fitting that the typically polite and clinical quadrennial gathering of campaign professionals would erupt into shouting matches and accusations raw with emotion.
As Harvard’s Nicco Mele regularly reminded the political operatives, journalists and students in the audience, the event was intended to take down “a first draft of history and we are trying to capture what happened here for generations to come.”
For the final panel of the day, senior operatives from the Trump and Clinton campaigns sat across from each other around a big rectangular formation of tables. There were moments when it seemed like a very good thing that 10 feet separated them.
Earlier in the day there was a sense of good humor and mutual respect between the various campaigns (more than a dozen were represented). But with the Trump and Clinton teams face to face, and with the weight of history being written, it turned ugly fast.
Here are some key moments:
Throughout the conference there was a lot of discussion of Donald Trump’s controversies and flare-ups. Trump’s team said they initially thought it was a problem for the campaign. Corey Lewandowski, who was Trump’s first campaign manager, reflected on the weekend in July 2015 when Trump said John McCain wasn’t a war hero because he had been captured.
Lewandowski said he had counseled Trump to apologize. Instead, Trump embraced his remarks, holding a press conference where he never apologized and further criticized McCain.
Lewandowski also said he spoke to Trump before a San Diego event where Trump criticized Indiana-born U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel. Lewandowski said he told Trump not to go there. Trump, of course, did go there, setting off one of the more lengthy and damaging feuds of his campaign.
But despite so many such flare-ups, there was no knockout blow to the Trump campaign. Not the McCain feud, the Megyn Kelly fight, the criticism of Judge Curiel (House Speaker Paul Ryan called Trump’s remarks “the textbook definition of racist comments”), the feud with the Khan family or even the Access Hollywood video where Trump talked about groping and kissing women.
Kellyanne Conway, the campaign manager who finished out the election with Trump, had this takeaway:
“There’s a difference to voters between what offends you and what affects you. And they were being told constantly, ‘Stare at this, care about this, make this the deal-breaker once and for all.’ And they were told that five or six times a week about different things. And yet they went, they voted the way voters have always voted: on things that affect them, not just things that offend them.”
It is safe to say there was no agreement why Trump won…