In his first extended public remarks since the presidential election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager on Thursday night tried to explain Donald Trump’s shocking victory. Sitting next to Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway in their first-ever face-off, at an event in Cambridge, Mass., Robby Mook said there was a “gale-force wind of change” in the country that propelled the Republican businessman to the win.
He also said that if FBI Director James Comey hadn’t sent two letters to Congress about the investigation into Clinton’s email server in the campaign’s closing days, then she “would have won the election.” Comey’s decision was “mind-boggling” and a “breach of protocol” at a point in the race when there were a lot of undecided voters, he said.
And yet Clinton campaign staffers in battleground states told VICE News that the campaign’s turnout operation in the closing days wasn’t focused at all on undecided voters. Almost the entire election ground game, they said, was focused on turning out the Democratic Party’s base.
Three weeks after one of the most surprising election results in American history, disoriented Democrats unsure of why they lost the presidential race to a man once widely mocked would find little solace in Mook’s remarks. Pressed by CNN’s Jake Tapper and Conway at the event at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, the Clinton campaign manager floated reason after reason for Clinton’s close loss, seemingly unsure of which to settle on.
In addition to Comey and “change,” Mook chided the media for its percentage-chance-to-win meters and repeatedly encouraged news outlets to “take a little of the sport out of it.” Their coverage of Clinton’s private email server, he said, was “the most overhyped, over-litigated, overblown story in the history of American politics, full stop.”
Or maybe it was millennials. “Some young people in particular were voting for third-party candidates,” he said. That echoed comments he made hours earlier as part of a larger panel that young voters supported Clinton only “in the high 50s at the end of the day” and “that’s why we lost,” according to the Washington Post.
Russian hacking (“outrageous”), fake news (“huge problem”), Clinton’s double X chromosomes (“a headwind”), and polling data (“for suburban women in particular”) also made Mook’s list.
But he was adamant that Clinton herself wasn’t responsible. He remarked how “proud” he was of Clinton for running a campaign defending tolerance and respect of other people’s religions. She “worked her heart out,” he said.
Conway, for her part, seemed to enjoy explaining her candidate’s victory a lot more than Mook enjoyed explaining defeat. Trump won because he was a “happy warrior” with a clear economic message while Clinton was “one of the most joyless candidates in history,” who only knew how to attack Trump.
Mook rarely challenged her, letting the victor enjoy the spoils. But when Conway dismissed the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “anti-Trump group,” Mook loudly criticized her for shrugging off the storied civil rights organization. The group has recorded nearly 900 incidents of racist or discriminatory acts of “hate” in the aftermath of the racially charged presidential campaign.
Mook said Trump had an obligation to speak out more often and louder against these acts. Conway did not appear to agree.