Just over three weeks since the November elections, the wounds of Campaign 2016 are clearly still very raw, as arguments and finger pointing broke out this week at a post-election gathering of top aides to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton held at Harvard University.
“We know this is going to be a lively and at some moments difficult session,” said one of the moderators, Dan Balz of the Washington Post.
That turned out to be an understatement.
In recorded audio from this week’s gathering, which was released on Thursday night by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, top staffers of the two campaigns freely exchanged a repeated verbal shots, as they went through the recent election campaign.
At one point, one-time Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski sparred with Clinton chief strategist Joel Benenson.
“If you want to attack me directly, I’ll be happy to have a conversation with you,” Lewandowski said to Benenson.
“You can respond to me when I’m done,” Benenson snapped. “We’re not at a Trump rally, Corey, come on.”
Reporter Balz tried to calm things, urging both men to “keep the conversation moving.”
That did not happen.
“Listen you guys won,” Benenson said, but as he referenced Clinton’s majority in the popular vote, he had a message for Trump aides.
“Let’s also be honest – don’t act as if you have some popular mandate for your message.”
“I mean, seriously?” said Trump campaign chief Kellyanne Conway, “why is there no mandate?” as Conway rattled off election losses by Democrats in Congress in recent years and mocked Democratic Party efforts to win working, white voters.
“Hashtag he’s your president. How’s that?” Conway said in a taunting tone.
“I would rather lose than win the way you guys did,” said veteran Clinton aide Jennifer Palmieri at one point.
As the program began, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell referred to the gathering as a “first draft of history,” in the “spirit of reconciliation,” she remarked.
But it was anything but.
Here is how the Associated Press described the gathering:
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — Tempers flared and political fault-lines were inflamed, as aides to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton gathered for their first meeting since Election Day.
Every four years since 1972, top presidential campaign aides have met for a polite discussion of the fierce battle they just waged.
Not so this year.
After an election that left the political world spiraling, this year’s gathering at the Harvard University’s Institute of Politics felt an awful lot like group therapy — or a knife fight. Stony-faced campaign aides heckled pollsters, jeered top media executives and traded shouted charges of racism, sexism and fear-mongering.