Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, and Clinton’s director of communications, Jennifer Palmieri, raised their voices and lashed out against each other during a round table discussion at Harvard University Thursday night.
The round-table, a post-mortem on the election, has become a tradition every four years.
The topic that sparked the heated exchange? The so-called alt-right movement and Trump’s support from white supremacists.
Palmieri at one point called on a speech that Clinton gave in late August, denouncing the alt-right movement.
Palmieri claimed that Trump helped elevate white nationalist views by bringing on Steve Bannon, a former top executive at Breitbart.com who will be Trump’s chief strategist.
At one point during the discussion, Donald Trump’s campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, called Clinton’s staffers “bitter” over their election loss.
“If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant strategist, a brilliant tactician, I am glad to have lost,” Palmieri said,
She added that she “would rather lose than win the way you guys did.”
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Conway then shot back, “Are you going to look at me in the face and say I provided a platform for white supremacists?”
Palmieri answered yes.
Conway responded, “How about, it is Hillary Clinton? She doesn’t connect with people. How about you have no economic message?”
Palmieri said that Trump spoke to people in the country “to an underlying cultural anxiety about change in a way we were just not willing to do.”
Trump’s team, meanwhile, defended their candidate and their campaign. David Bossie, the deputy campaign manager, said that Trump had a “unique ability to go past the media and speak directly to the American people.” He also defended Bannon, calling him a “brilliant strategist” and a “really terrific guy.”
The Clinton team argued that they faced the challenge from the start of running in a year when voters wanted change — as they tend to do after one party holds the White House for eight years.
Friday morning, Conway discussed the heated exchange, saying the accusations of “race-baiting” were false.
“I took that personally, and I know that’s not true,” Conway said on CBS’s This Morning. “President-elect Trump has denounced every single element of that awful movement. He’s never met these people. He doesn’t ask for their endorsement.”
The round table also offered a behind-the-scenes perspective for the campaigns, with Clinton’s aide saying interference from the FBI‘s director cost her the White House.
Clinton aide Robby Mook zeroed in Thursday on letters sent in the waning days of the campaign by FBI director James Comey related to his agency’s examination of Clinton’s email accounts. Without those letters, Mook said, Clinton would have won.
He called the focus on Clinton’s emails during the campaign one of the “most over-reported, overhyped, over-litigated stories in the history of American politics.”
Conway, said one key tactical move that helped Trump was the decision to stop looking at national polls and instead focus on state polls, particularly in swing states.
“When I came onboard, we never did another national poll,” she said during the discussion, held at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
She said a mistake made by the Clinton campaign was assuming the 2016 electorate would resemble the 2012 electorate, which gave Democratic President Barack Obama a second term, when it was closer to the 2014 midterm electorate, which handed big gains to Republicans in Congress.
She also credited Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic primary challenger, for helping “soften up” Clinton and paving the way for Trump’s victory. She said political observers who predicted the race would go to Clinton “ignored the phenomenon known as Bernie Sanders.”
Mook also blamed Clinton’s loss in part on the drip, drip, drip of apparently hacked Democratic emails.
The U.S. government has said Russia was responsible for hacking at least some of the emails released by WikiLeaks, including those from the private account of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
“We cannot have foreign aggressors intervening in our elections,” Mook said.
Asked about the reports of Russian-backed hacking, which Russia has dismissed, Conway said, “We just don’t know it to be true.”
*with files from The Associated Press and Reuters