Presidential Campaign Managers Share ‘War Stories’ at Harvard

Jake Tapper in conversation with Kellyanne Conway and Robby Mook at Harvard on December 1st. Photo by Eesha Pendharkar, BU News Service.
Written by Eesha Pendharkar

By Eesha Pendharkar
BU News Service

The election is over, but the debates aren’t. On Thursday night, an audience at Harvard’s Kennedy School witnessed yet another clash between a Republican a Democrat, almost a month after Donald Trump won the election.

Trump’s campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook reflected on campaign strategies and answered students’ questions at the “War Stories: Inside Campaign 2016” event, a part of CNN’sState of the Union with Jake Tapper.”

Mook blamed FBI director James Comey for having cost Clinton the election with a vague letter about her email server. He reiterated Clinton’s regret and apology for using a private server. “But despite that, this was the most over-hyped, over-reported, over-litigated story in the history of American politics.”

Conway said that the Trump campaign’s tenacity worked in their favor more than the Comey letter. She said assuming that Clinton could attract “the Obama coalition” and presuming that people that voted Democratic in 2008 and 2012 would do it again were the main flaws of the campaign. 

According to Conway, Clinton failed to reach the voters and gain their trust. She also offered her opinion on the difference between electing a female president and electing Hillary Clinton.

“The idea that the country was not ready for a woman completely undercuts the fact that maybe they weren’t ready for this woman,” Conway said.

The discussion also touched on fake news. Mook said that the “post-factual election” was a big problem mainly because of Russian hackers’ involvement.

“We cannot have foreign aggressors intervening in our elections,” Mook said. He added that the Russians were spreading fake news through Facebook and other media outlets, and websites like Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News were “notorious for headline stories like this.”

“They peddled a lot of stories on that website which were just false,” said Mook.

“I think that the biggest piece of fake news in this election was that Donald Trump couldn’t win,” Conway retorted. She placed the blame on major news organizations for stories she said portrayed Trump in an “extremely negative light.”

When Tapper asked Mook about the decision to not offer Bernie Sanders the vice presidency, the Clinton aide defended selecting Tim Kaine.

“[Sanders] deserved to be on that list, but at the end of the day, [Clinton] felt like Tim Kaine would represent her views and values,” Mook said.

Conway said she thought Sanders inadvertently helped the Trump campaign.

“I’d also like to publicly thank Bernie Sanders for his effect on our campaign because he softened up Hillary Clinton,” Conway said. She denied reports about Pence having second thoughts about backing Trump.

Conway defended Trump multiple times during the night, when he was called a misogynist and criticized for his controversial tweeting and for disrespecting minorities. She also defended Bannon, who is a chief Trump advisor, saying he was being “unfairly maligned.”

She said the media spent a lot time on accusations against Trump, but that his win reflected what Americans really care about.

“America said, there’s a difference between what may offend me and what absolutely affects me,” Conway said.

The most heated moment of the evening came when”alt-right” extremist, white supremacist groups were mentioned. Mook interrupted Conway as she answered a student’s question about hate groups’ excitement over the Trump by saying that there were young people who looked at the President as a role model and he had a duty to condemn hate against minorities and the KKK’s propaganda.

“The Ku Klux Klan is unacceptable and he needs to say that” Mook said to resounding applause.

Most of the questions seemed directed at Conway in the hopes of learning her stance on Trump’s previous statements, but she repeatedly asked everyone to “give him a chance.”

The night ended with Tapper thanking the two campaign managers for going through yet another media interrogation. He especially thanked Conway for coming to Harvard, an institution with a liberal reputation.

“You might get a congressional medal for that,” Tapper said.

Mook’s statement about Trump’s presidency summarized the sentiment in the room on Thursday night.

The campaign’s over, it’s time to move on. I just hope the truth doesn’t get lost or sacrificed,” he said.

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