Top operatives at the Hillary Clinton campaign pointed the finger at FBI Director James Comey on Friday, blaming him for Donald Trump’s historic victory over their candidate. They also accused the Trump campaign of tapping into racism in order to win the election.
“Undecided voters didn’t break our way,” Clinton Campaign Manager Robby Mook said at the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, CNN reported. “That Comey letter had a huge impact,” Mook added, saying it was “probably a game-changer.”
Mook and Clinton Chief Strategist Joel Benenson recalled that the race was fluid in the final two weeks, and defectors from both Clinton and Trump were considering third-party candidates. In the final weeks before Election Day, they were each coming home, but the Comey letter convinced natural Clinton backers to keep their distance, Mook and Benenson argued. “Those last 11 days we couldn’t get them back” because of the Comey letter, said the chief strategist.
Their comments echoed Clinton’s message to top donors in a conference call last month. “Our analysis is that Jim Comey’s letter raising doubts that were groundless [and] baseless – and proven to be – stopped our momentum,” she said.
Comey’s October letter, which announced new information revealed in the case of Clinton’s email server, seemed to contradict his earlier statement in July saying that “no reasonable prosecutor” would bring a case against the former secretary of State. Two days before the election, he made another announcement, saying that no new information had been found.
The entire episode proved supremely disappointing to both Republicans (who thought Clinton guilty and wanted to see justice done) and Democrats (who thought the email scandal a non-issue). Democrats may well blame Comey for weakening Clinton’s chances in November, but Republicans also blame him for refusing to prosecute a political offender.
But the former Clinton campaign aides didn’t just point the finger at Comey — they also accused the Trump campaign of using racism to win the election. Benenson said that Trump’s campaign sent “dog whistles” and messages with racial undertones to appeal to disgruntled whites angry at government favoring minorities. He pressed the Trump team to name exactly which groups the Republican nominee wanted to “take America back from.”
Clinton Senior Adviser Karen Finney said Trump tapped into “underlying cultural anxiety about change that we were not willing to do.” Palmieri and Finney explicitly charged that the Republican’s campaign supported white supremacist views by hiring Breitbart Chief Executive Steve Bannon. This elevated that alt-right into the mainstream, while Clinton denounced that movement.
Next Page: “Are you going to look me in the face and say I helped white supremacists?”
“Are you going to look me in the face and say I provided a platform for white supremacists?” asked Campaign Manager Kellyanne Conway, incredulously. Finney and Clinton adviser Jennifer Palmieri reportedly nodded, looking her in the eyes and saying, “Yes.”
“I would rather lose than win the way you did,” Palmieri added.
“You guys are pathetic,” Trump adviser David Bossie shot back, attacking their smear campaign against Bannon.
Advisers to both campaigns did agree on one thing, though: the media was unfair to their candidate.
Clinton advisers argued there was an unfair “double standard” for Clinton because of her gender, CNN reported. But former Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski attacked the media, saying, “You guys took everything Donald Trump said so literally. The American people didn’t. They understood it.”
“They understood sometimes when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up,” Lewandowski explained.
Mook argued that the press often focused on how Clinton delivered her message in a way that they would not have scrutinized if she had been a male candidate. “She’s been an uncomfortable presence for a long time,” explained Palmieri.
Conway called the Clinton campaign “bitter” and said they had a bad candidate. She challenged the advisers to “accept the results of the election. … He was the better candidate. That’s why we won.”
But the Clinton advisers argued that since Trump lost the popular vote, he did not have a mandate to govern.
In the end, it seems this meeting only demonstrated that tensions remain high, and that the divisions in the election are likely to remain with us going into 2017. Donald J. Trump has his work cut out for him — let’s hope he’s up to the job.