AMY WALTER: I'm Amy Walter.
This is the Washington Week Extra, where we pick up online
where we left off on air.
The presidential election is over, but the clashes between
the campaigns continued this week at a post-election review hosted at Harvard's Kennedy
School of Government.
Phil, you were up in Cambridge this week.
These are normally these very cordial, professional affairs.
PHILIP RUCKER: They are.
AMY WALTER: And yet it seemed to turn into a fiery hot mess.
PHILIP RUCKER: That's right.
This is - (laughter) - this is the quadrennial
conference of campaign managers that Harvard's Institute of Politics runs, and they're
normally very cordial, respectful, everyone talking about their strategies.
And in this case, the tensions were so raw, the emotions were just erupting in the room
and it really came to the fore.
AMY WALTER: Yeah, tell us - set the scene, because you have a table with the two
campaigns on either side, right?
PHILIP RUCKER: It's a long conference table and you have six of the top advisors from
the Trump campaign facing six of the top advisors from the Clinton campaign, moderated by
a few journalists.
And then the room is filled with other journalists and other campaign
And we're sort of listening; it's a three-hour discussion about the general
And it really came to a head when the subject of the campaign shakeup
in the Trump campaign came up.
This is when Steve Bannon, who had been the top executive
at Breitbart News, took over as the chief executive of the Trump campaign.
And Jen Palmieri, the communications director for Hillary Clinton, said look, you know,
this is a campaign that gave a platform and a voice to the alt-right, which is of course
the kind of fringe conservative movement that's become a home for a lot of white
supremacists and anti-Semites and really the ugliest aspects of our politics.
And Kellyanne Conway just went at Palmieri and said, are you going to tell me to my face
that I ran a campaign for white supremacists?
And Palmieri said yes, Kellyanne, you did,
and it kind of devolved from there.
Joel Benenson, the Clinton strategist, said don't
claim, Donald Trump, that you have a mandate; you lost the popular vote.
voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, don't claim you have a mandate.
And Kellyanne snapped back and said we won, we won, we won.
So there was a lot of gloating from the Trump officials, but there was also a lot of
defensiveness from the Clinton team, and they did not really come to terms, I don't
think, with why she lost.
There was a lot of blame for the media, for James Comey - the
FBI director - for the negative campaigning by Trump and his team, but not really a
grappling with Hillary Clinton's inherent and fundamental weaknesses as a candidate and
some of the strategic decisions that they made along the way.
AMY WALTER: Absolutely.
And, Carrie, is this sort of a microcosm, then, for how the
country is dealing with this election, where you're going to have Democrats in this
camp, Republicans in this camp, and it's going to be really hard to think of ways to
get them back together?
CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: It absolutely is, and I - but I don't - again, I don't think this
is really anything new.
I think we've seen this buildup.
This is a culmination of a
pattern that's been building since, I think, you know, George W. Bush and his election
in 2000, which was just a(n) extraordinarily polarizing event when you had - again, he
lost the popular vote, won the Electoral College with the help of the Supreme Court.
And I think that's where we really saw this extraordinary divide and tension, and you saw
it build through the Obama years when covering politics in Washington.
Nobody would see
eye to eye on anything.
And I think - I think it's only bound to sort of accelerate and
And as someone who's been in Washington for a number of years, I don't know how
you guys feel, it's just - it's so hard sometimes to see how any of this gets rolled
back and sort of anything happens on a bipartisan nature here in this town.
And I think
that was going to be the case Clinton or Trump, really, but it's pretty pronounced now.
CAROL LEE: The other thing I would say is that how you were talking about Kellyanne
saying, well, we won and we won.
It reminds me of Barack Obama.
Like one of his first meetings with Republicans -
AMY WALTER: He said the same thing.
CAROL LEE: - and members of Congress was, you know, a confrontation with then-Majority
Leader Eric Cantor, who is Republican, and he said, you know, well, we won, elections
And you know, then he just wound up spending the next - he got some
things done in two years when the Democrats were in charge, but then he spent the next
four to six years just really struggling to get anything done.
And so, you know, there's a sort of comeuppance that comes at a certain point.
MANU RAJU: But the one thing that Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has warned his
party about is not to overread their mandate.
You know, because of the country being so divided and because of the fact that they are -
still have a narrow majority in the Senate, things can certainly change very quickly,
especially if they overreach and especially if they don't get a lot of things done that
they promise and they start to blame each other, which we've seen happen time and again
in one-party rule.
So, you know, things - they may feel good right now, but it'll get tough.
AMY WALTER: Well, isn't that what Democrats are counting on?
It seems that Pelosi's - the minority leader in the House, her entire strategy for 2018
is based on Republicans will overreach.
MANU RAJU: Absolutely.
And you know, the first midterm of a new administration is
historically difficult for the party in power, so they're hoping for that.
But it'll be so difficult, the map, for the Democrats to get back into the majority, both
in the House and the Senate, and the Senate in particular.
More Democrats are up than Republicans, particularly in states like - red states that
Trump won overwhelmingly in the Senate - Senate states like North Dakota, Montana,
Missouri, Indiana, and also swing states like Florida.
So it's going to be difficult for Democrats to regain the majority.
But they do believe that the worse that Trump does, the better that they do.
AMY WALTER: The better that they do there.
Carol, I want to go to you.
Talk a little bit about when we saw Donald Trump on the campaign - actually, he's not on
the campaign trail, but it felt like he was on the campaign trail when he was in Ohio
this week, and once again, using the media as his favorite punching bag.
You used to be the president of the White House Correspondents Association.
You're now - that was a year ago that you were in that position.
CAROL LEE: Till July, yes.
AMY WALTER: Yes.
Tell us what you think the relationship between Trump and the media
is going to look like, and what expectations should we have.
CAROL LEE: I think it's a huge open question, and there are so many contradictions in
Donald Trump's approach to the media.
You know, I've been at his rallies during the
campaign where he's leading the crowd in the "CNN sucks" chant, and then saying in the
next sentence, like, did you see Melania in her interview tonight, which was on CNN.
And you know, he tells the - or he bashed The New York Times as "the failing New York
Times," and then he has an interview with them and he calls them a world-class jewel.
So you don't really know.
But we know a couple of facts.
One is that he does not have a protective pool, which is something that all presidents
going back decades have had, which is a small group of reporters that goes everywhere
with the president, mainly - schoolish as it sounds - to be there in case something
catastrophic happened to the president or, you know, the world, as we saw on 9/11, where
what started out as a very routine trip to Sarasota, Florida became this huge event, and
the reason why it was able to be documented by an independent media was because there
were actual reporters on the plane.
Donald Trump flies with no reporters on his plane.
That'll change, presumably, when he has Air Force One, which has a press cabin for those
So we know that.
We know that he doesn't do a lot of press conferences.
That's a bit of a shift.
He doesn't allow press into his fundraisers.
That's also a
So there's a number of things that I think we're going to be pushing for and
it's not clear that we will get, and he has a lot of leeway to set the parameters for that.
But at the same time, you know, there's a reason why the system is there, and once you
get into that office you might come to see things a little bit differently because it
creates sort of organization out of chaos, and you're not having a bunch of - we don't
live in a country where a bunch of reporters are chasing the presidential motorcade
because we're actually in the motorcade.
And you know, you have a press right there
that, if you want to get your word out to the world, you can, like that -
(snaps fingers) - and go live.
And so - and the other thing is that, you know, if he
wants to start off on a very adversarial note with reporters, we all have to write
stories and broadcast news anyways.
And you know, there's - we're going to do that
whether - and what are those stories saying?
Are they informed by his administration
and senior officials based on his - on what his policies are?
Is there a whole narrative about his aggression towards the press?
Does he want that distraction when he has a number of things to do?
And so I think, to go back to where I started, it's just we don't know.
But I think the most important thing for the reporters to do is to be unified in saying
these are the things we want, these are the things we're not going to give up on.
AMY WALTER: Though when you said, you know, you go to the media to get your word out
instantly to the rest of the world, he's got Twitter.
He can do - and he's used that.
So is there any reason to think that maybe he doesn't just use Twitter as his - basically
his outreach to the country?
PHILIP RUCKER: He certainly could.
I mean, he could use Twitter.
He's been using YouTube videos to put out his statements to the American people, which,
you know, as soon as they come out, they're live on cable news and we're writing about
them at The Washington Post.
And you know, he can make a statement that way instead of
to the press, and it certainly would challenge the kind of customs and norms of the
free press in this country.
But he's entitled to do it if he wants to.
I tend to agree with Carol, though, that he's going to become president and figure out
that there's a structure here, there's a briefing room here for a reason, there's a pool
for a reason, and try to use it to his advantage as opposed to throw everybody out.
CAROL LEE: Yeah, and I think what you've seen with the Obama administration is that it's
been a balance, and sometimes it leans more one way or the other.
Like when President
Obama named Elena Kagan as his Supreme Court nominee, there was this video put out by
the White House with their videographer, like, "we caught up with Elena Kagan on the
And it's like, well, yeah, because you're there and we're not allowed there.
AMY WALTER: Yes, you have access to it; we don't, yeah.
CAROL LEE: But it was like, you know, and it created this what we would call propaganda,
not an independent video interview with "running into Elena Kagan."
And at the same time,
then, you know, you have a press secretary who comes and has to answer questions from the
media every day.
But there's a number of things that this administration could choose
to do away with if they wanted to, but it would - we'd write anyway, so.
AMY WALTER: Is your expectation, Carrie, that it's just going to be adversarial throughout?
Or do you think that maybe he comes in, he's president, and things change a little bit?
CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: I want to hope for the best, but you know, we have to prepare and
expect the worst, really.
I mean, I assume it's just not going to be the way - it's not
going to be normal or traditional.
And I think just my - I think my concern as, you
know, an editor is that - you know, that it's just - we don't necessarily need access
to any building or any official, like Carol said, to do our jobs.
And, like, that's
not the point.
I would just love for our jobs not to be made unnecessarily more difficult.
And I do believe that, you know, there - he will have incentives that are different than
the ones he has now, and he will learn the power of sort of appearing in the Rose Garden
with assembled media, answering questions, looking presidential.
I think he's going to kind of like that.
He's going to like going into the briefing room.
This is - these are the images that he has watched his entire life.
He's very captive to
those types of things.
Why wouldn't he want to do that, right?
And he needs a press
there then to do it.
I think the thing that frightens me a little bit is the push he's
getting from people like Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich, who are talking about sort of
just having propaganda shops and just giving - and that's just sort of - that is frightening.
MANU RAJU: And there is a way to push back against that, because some media
organizations, including CNN and other TV networks, refused to run some footage with the
recent meeting with Trump and the Japanese prime minister because they would only, you
know, release their own footage, not - did not allow pool cameras in there to shoot in
and do an independent coverage of it.
So there are ways that could prevent him from
getting his message out, but I don't know if he takes that message.
CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: I mean, like think about it, he's going to want to sit in the desk
in the Oval Office and deliver statements, right?
I mean, I think the question then is, do we
have access to that, as we normally would?
He's going to love that stuff.
I mean - (laughter) -
PHILIP RUCKER: Totally.
CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: It's just, like, how could he not?
This is like better than any Trump Tower or -
CAROL LEE: But he could do that.
I mean, you've seen that structure, a network
comes in - because it's not a ready to go live place, the Oval - and spend a whole day
building the infrastructure to get the president live.
And does he do that, or does he
bring in his own videographer?
You know, there's a question like that.
But I think that the key is for news organizations to decide what things really matter
and to really stick to their guns on them - like, the videos and, you know, to a certain
extent there's new organizations that won't run White House-produced photos of really
significant events that the press has been shut out of in there.
So that's like - that's one way in which -
CARRIE BUDOFF BROWN: I think, like, there has to be a lot of, like, cohesiveness among
That's the only power we have, and we have to stand up when one
organization is blacklisted or pushed out.
Like, that's going to be the test, in my
view, of whether we can stand together.
It's not just whether The New York Times gets
It's whether POLITICO gets kicked out or anybody else, and that's on us.
CAROL LEE: And they're - the Trump folks have shown themselves very adept at, like, kind
of trying to play media organizations off of each other, and reporters.
And you know,
there's a - so that's something else that people are going to have to really resist.
AMY WALTER: Well, thank you, guys.
And thanks, everybody, for watching.
There's more online, including this week's Washington Week-ly News Quiz.
You can check that out.
And we'll see you on the next Washington Week Extra.