Every four years since 1972, the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University has hosted an after-action gathering on the presidential election called the Campaign Managers Conference, in which the people who ran the presidential campaigns of both the winners and the losers dish about their successes, rue their failures and try to provide attendees with what the school calls “the first draft of history.”
The big news going into this year’s confab was that Trump campaign chairman Steve Bannon was going to steer clear of his alma mater and forgo the event. The news coming out of the conference? Lots of fighting!
As you might expect with such an acrimonious campaign (if you recall, part of Donald Trump’s platform during the election season was a promise to use the powers at his disposal to prosecute his opponent, Hillary Clinton), the representatives of the two campaigns sparred angrily during their session together. As the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty report, things devolved into a “shouting match,” with the Clinton campaign’s communications director, Jennifer Palmieri, denouncing the way the Trump campaign provided “a platform for white supremacists,” over the vigorous objections of her Trump campaign counterpart, Kellyanne Conway.
But enough about that! If you ask me, the real action happened at a Wednesday night dinner at The Charles Hotel in Cambridge, where there was yet another shouting match. Only this time, all of the shouting served two very noble and patriotic purposes: savaging CNN President Jeff Zucker and making former Trump campaign operative-turned-CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski upset.
As Politico’s Hadas Gold reports, the dinner discussion, which was supposed to be a genteel and academic discussion among Zucker, Washington Post Editor Marty Baron, Associated Press Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll and Facebook Vice President Elliot Schrage ― presided over by journalist and The Victory Lab author Sasha Issenberg ― quickly took a turn as the various campaign managers for the losing Republican primary candidates came at Zucker like a gang of chum-hungry sharks.
Nice! Let us be glad about all of these things that happened.
Per Gold, these campaign managers “shouted Zucker down with increasing anger as he defended how much airtime the network gave Trump” during the primary season, contending that it was both out of whack and out of balance. Zucker’s self-defense essentially amounted to asserting that when CNN reached out to the various candidates, Trump was the one who answered the call the most often.
Several of the campaign managers assembled told Zucker that they’d not received these alleged calls. Others joked about how CNN was willing to give their candidates only a brief amount of time or air segments at off-hours. As anyone who actually witnessed the primary campaign can tell you, none of the other candidates’ events got the lavish, fulsome coverage that Trump’s got.
And that includes coverage of Trump events during times when Trump wasn’t even in range of the camera lens. As one audience member shouted, “You showed empty podiums!” (Which was technically accurate, as there were podiums at these events.)
Zucker was unable to sufficiently explain to the assembled campaign managers how it came to pass that CNN offered so many hours of coverage to Trump’s many empty stages and unoccupied lecterns. Perhaps in an effort to reach out to every campaign’s inanimate stage props, only Trump’s returned the call, offering to help CNN air hundreds of minutes of blank space for no good reason.
As Gold details, it all got to the point where Lewandowski had to leave the room to cuddle his binky or something:
The Trump strategists peppered throughout the room didn’t stand up to defend Zucker or challenge the other strategists, with the exception of former Trump campaign manager and CNN contributor Corey Lewandowski, who stalked out of the room early and returned only after a spell outside.
Once Lewandowski returned from psyching himself up in the washroom mirror with repeated pick-me-ups (“You can do it, Corey! You’re a real man, Corey!”), the erstwhile CNN contributor was in more of a fighting mood, getting confrontational once the conversation turned to Zucker’s decision to hire Lewandowski in the first place:
Lewandowski seized the microphone from the questioner, who broached the topic, in a bid to defend himself, allowing the student to finish asking it, but insisting he was adding value to the CNN airwaves.
Zucker said Lewandowski was a “good investment and decision,” as Lewandowski clapped and the rest of the room remained silent.
Please clap! But no.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.