Politics & Policy

Clinton Staffer Jennifer Palmieri Still Doesn’t Get Why Her Campaign Lost

Jen Palimieri (left) with Huma Abedin at a campaign rally in Portsmouth, N.H., in July. (Reuters photo: Brian Snyder)
The top Clinton aide is lashing out instead of trying to understand what she got wrong.

Jennifer Palmieri should be ashamed of herself.

Not because she was the communications chief for a campaign that suffered one of the most humiliating election losses in American history. Not even for being bitter that her candidate, poised to become the first woman president of the United States, was defeated by the most unlikely and disliked man ever to run for that office.

Jennifer Palmieri should be ashamed of the invective she has spewed over the past week. Not only is she stoking fear among an uneasy public, she is Exhibit A of why the campaign she helped lead went down in flames. Palmieri represents the tone-deafness, the sense of entitlement, and the palpable disdain for many American voters that led to her candidate’s defeat.

It all started on December 1 at a post-election roundtable at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Palmieri was there with other Clinton aides, including campaign manager Robby Mook, and some of Trump’s campaign team, including Kellyanne Conway and Corey Lewandowski. While no video is available, the audio is plenty. Palmieri is in full spin mode, voice shaking with anger, often unfocused and nonsensical. At no time during the 2.5 hour discussion did she accept responsibility for losing the election or assign any blame to her boss, Hillary Clinton.

What she did do is point the finger at everything and everyone else, from Julian Assange to the Trump campaign to the media. Palmieri lamented that the Clinton campaign could not “break through” to get their message out. She actually claimed that the coverage of the Khan family hurt their campaign. “I was frustrated with our ability to break through . . . what happened on our bus tour . . . was Khan,” she said. “That’s when Mr. Trump had all his comments about the Khans that went on for days. And we couldn’t break through.” When Andrea Mitchell, one of the moderators, pushed back in disbelief, Palmieri doubled down. “That day we wanted to talk about jobs.”

Yes, I see your mouth open. Here is a top aide to Hillary Clinton saying that one of the darkest days of the Trump campaign (I’d argue that the comments about the Khans were even more damaging to Trump than the Access Hollywood video) got in the way of their non-existent jobs message.

It went downhill from there: “What hurt us was either them [the Trump campaign] coming after her or us getting picked apart by the press.” She accused Trump of “going off in his self-contained universe,” which — when Kellyanne Conway challenged her to define what she meant — she explained was his “telling his story and running his race.” She babbled on: “You guys are good at . . . you know . . . he has his rallies, he delivers his message, um, that, you know, you don’t . . . I think your challenge was . . . your challenges were different than ours were.”

Now let’s back up a minute. Jennifer Palmieri is an experienced political adviser. She has worked on presidential campaigns before. She worked in the White House. She worked for John Podesta. Yet here she is criticizing the Trump campaign for holding campaign rallies and getting his message out directly to voters. Astonishing.

She was also unable to articulate why people didn’t connect with Clinton. When asked, Palmieri said Clinton “doesn’t have a peer on the national stage,” and that “as a Baby Boomer, a generationally challenging figure . . . she didn’t stay home and bake cookies. She doesn’t like the spotlight.” Huh?

When the topic of Trump adviser and former Breitbart CEO Steve Bannon came up, she was indignant: “If providing a platform for white supremacists makes me a brilliant tactician, then I am glad to have lost,” she said. “I am more proud of Hillary Clinton’s alt-right speech than any other moment on the campaign because she had the courage to stand up. . . . I would rather lose than win the way you guys did.” Others from the Clinton campaign chimed in as the conversation devolved into a war of words with the Trump folks. (You can hear it here starting at 1:40:00.)

Since Election Day, we have seen little evidence Democrats understand why they lost.

Sadly, Palmieri is now doubling down on that inflammatory and dishonest message. In a December 8 op-ed for the Washington Post, Palmieri expands upon the accusations she made at the Harvard forum. The piece begins with the all-evidence-to-the-contrary opening, “I know how to be a gracious loser.” The gracious loser went on to reiterate — wink-wink — that her candidate won the popular vote and “received more votes than any other white man in U.S. history.”

On that note, she proceeded to make her case that the Trump campaign empowered “the white-nationalist movement.” Her evidence? A nearly unreadable, 5,200-word article published on Politico about random tweets and replies to tweets from wacko white-supremacist accounts, a handful of which Trump (perhaps unwittingly) retweeted; a few comments from David Duke supporting Trump (which Trump disavowed); some people saying “Hail Trump” in the wake of the election; and two news articles about some idiots treating members of minority groups badly.

Then, in a self-serving attempt to keep alive doubt and dread about a Trump presidency, Palmieri wrote this: “Hispanic families who voted for Clinton believe Trump will deport their parents or siblings because he said he would. Muslim supporters fear they will not be welcome in their own country because of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban. Mothers and fathers of both parties supported Clinton because they didn’t want their children growing up in an America where women and girls don’t feel respected by their own president.”

#related#It may be true that these fears exist, and Trump deserves some of the blame — he did use inflammatory language on the campaign trail. But Trump’s policies and tone shifted as his campaign progressed and have continued to since his election. He has explicitly disavowed and condemned white nationalists. He has signaled that deportations will be focused on criminal illegal immigrants. And he’s backed away from a blanket ban on Muslims entering the country. The Clinton campaign irresponsibly stoked fears about these issues throughout the campaign. That was essentially the only message Hillary Clinton had in the weeks leading up to Election Day. That strategy helped to boost the profile of the alt-right. And it all backfired.

Since Election Day, we have seen little evidence Democrats understand why they lost. That’s good for Republicans. But we’ve also seen digging in by people like Palmieri, who continue to promote a divisive, fear-based message to undermine the Trump presidency. That’s not good for the country.

Gracious? Not even a little.

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