CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The raw, lingering emotion of the 2016 presidential campaign erupted into a shouting match here 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 K. 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 asked. “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 a historical 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.
This year, in the wake of a brutal campaign with a surprise outcome, it was clear that the wounds have not yet begun to heal. The animosity of the campaign aides mirrors the broader feelings of millions of voters on both sides.
Campaign officials lashed out at each other, and also against the media — which neither side believed had treated it fairly.
Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook also acknowledged that her operation had made a number of mistakes and miscalculations, while being buffeted by what he repeatedly described as a “head wind” of being an establishment candidate in a season where voters were eager for change.
He noted, for…