Top Trump and Clinton aides feud at Harvard forum

Kellyanne Conway, Trump-Pence campaign manager, left, sits with Robby Mook, Clinton-Kaine campaign manager, prior to a forum at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Cambridge, Mass., Dec. 1, 2016.

AP

Last Updated Dec 2, 2016 7:42 AM EST

A forum with the top campaign officials from the presidential campaigns of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton erupted into a bitter clash at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities Thursday night.

CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes, who attended the forum, says downcast Clinton operatives were subdued through the first half of the three-hour conversation while Trump officials Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, and David Bossie touted their winning strategy. 

The breaking point for Clinton campaign communications director Jennifer Palmieri appeared to come as Bossie, who was Mr. Trump’s deputy campaign manager, praised the Republican president-elect’s controversial campaign chairman, Steve Bannon.

“The guy is an unbelievably brilliant strategist who is brilliant, a terrific guy who...  has a Harvard pedigree and is getting attacked by people who have no idea who he is,” Bossie enthused.

jennifer-palmieri-ap-21807146878.jpg

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, right, speaks with Director of Communications Jennifer Palmieri, left, backstage before a rally at the Plumbers and Pipe fitters Local 525 Union Hall in Las Vegas, Nov. 2, 2016.

AP

“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant strategist, a brilliant tactician, I am glad to have lost,” Palmieri burst out, adding that she “would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”

“No, you wouldn’t, that’s very clear today,” Conway retorted. “No you wouldn’t, respectfully.”

But Conway was just getting started.

“How exactly did [Mr. Trump] win? No, go for it, Jen -- how exactly did we win? I’d like to know, because I sacrificed the last four months of my life to do it,” she said, arguing they had achieved victory “by looking at the schedule and looking at, yes, the electoral map of 270 because that’s how you win the presidency. And we went places, and we were either ignored or mocked -- roundly by most of the people in this room -- but I have a smile on my face at all times -- and we did it by focusing with Steve Bannon and Dave Bossie and everybody you see here.”

“We connected with voters,” Conway told Palmieri. “We connected with voters.”

Since 1972, The Kennedy School at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics has held a quadrennial conference on the presidential campaign, which it likes to call a “first draft of history” of the presidential campaign that has just taken place. It includes campaign officials, as well as journalists and political observers, and they talk about key decisions and pivotal moments in the campaign. 

One of those moments was the hiring of Bannon, the publisher of Breitbart, and an ardent Trump supporter even before he was hired by Mr. Trump to chair his campaign. He was supposed to attend the forum, but skipped it.

Palmieri attacked Bannon for having said that he’d give a platform to white rights activists who refer to themselves as the “alt-right,” and she defended Clinton for having delivered a speech accusing Mr. Trump of bringing white nationalists into the mainstream.

“One of my proudest moments of [Clinton] is her standing up and her saying with courage and clarity in Steve Bannon’s own words, in Donald Trump’s own words, the platform that they gave to white supremacists, white nationalists... it is a very, very important moment in our history as a country, and I think as his presidency moves forward I am going to be very proud to have been part of the campaign that tried to stop it,” Palmieri said.

“Do you think I ran a campaign where white supremacists had a platform?” Conway asked. “Are you going to look me in the face and tell me that?”

“You did, Kellyanne,” said Palmieri. “You did!”

Conway responded, “Do you think you could have just had a decent message for white, working-class voters? You think this woman who has nothing in common with anybody?” Hillary Clinton, Conway said, “doesn’t connect with people,” and she added, “you had no economic message.” 

There were early signs that the conference was not going to proceed as it had in years past, even outside the building, as hundreds of students protested, specifically against Steve Bannon.