“We went in thinking we were going to win,” said John Podesta, chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Podesta spoke on Nov. 29 to a full house at Duke’s Penn Pavilion.
In conversation with Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy, Podesta discussed the biggest electoral upset in modern history. Podesta has long-standing ties to the Clintons, having served as President Bill Clinton’s chief of staff and as a counselor to President Obama.
“It was a campaign of anger” that tapped into the mood of a country in transition with rising populist sentiments, said Podesta.
Trump ran on a “complete rejection of President Obama, and it worked where it needed to,” he said.
Podesta said he saw Trump as a serious opponent early on.
“In sports terms, he was like a left-handed boxer; he was unpredictable. He was willing to do and say anything,” he said. By late 2015, he thought the Republican primary would come down to Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz, with the mainstream Republicans rallying around Cruz, “even though nobody liked him.”
On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders tapped into some of the same populist feelings as Trump and was a credible candidate, but “our coalition was bigger than his,” said Podesta.
Feaver asked whether the recent controversial book by Donna Brazile, former interim DNC chair, was correct in saying that “the fix was in” for Clinton.
“That doesn’t mischaracterize her headline,” said Podesta.