Unlike many of his colleagues in Washington, John Podesta, who chaired the 2016 presidential campaign for Hillary Clinton LAW ’73, doesn’t want to write a tell-all book about the election. Instead, he is working on a cookbook, in which he hopes to mix in some political commentary with his recipes.
Podesta reflected on his team’s loss in the 2016 election, as well as his criticisms of President Donald Trump’s presidency, at a talk on Thursday evening co-sponsored by the Yale Politic and the Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.
“People want to take the country back, they don’t want the division, they don’t want the direction that the president is leading us in, and the way to effect that is by, first and foremost, winning back the House,” Podesta said. “There’s a good chance we can win back the House.”
Podesta said he believes the Clinton campaign succeeded in proving that Trump was unfit and unqualified to be president, but his team “screwed up [its] strategy” by using social media only to speak to Clinton supporters. By failing to persuade potential voters online, Podesta said, the campaign gave pro-Trump forces the chance to intervene.
While disheartened by Clinton’s loss in the election, Podesta said he has been encouraged by recent activism among young people and by the surge of new citizens running for public office.
Podesta, who also served as chief of staff for former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73, was highly critical of Trump and many of his advisers during the talk, mentioning the president’s inability to tolerate dissent and his impulsive nature. He said the “most frightening” development in Trump’s White House has been the appointment of John Bolton’70 LAW ’74 as his new national security adviser, whom Podesta described as the “worst person” to be an honest broker to the president.
Podesta also drew parallels between the current political climate and the spirit of his college years when activism against the Vietnam War first drew him into politics. Trump’s attempts to influence special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between his campaign and Russia are also analogous to former President Richard Nixon’s interactions with the justice system before his impeachment, Podesta said.
Podesta added that he predicts the next “big shoe to drop” in Mueller’s investigation will be the indictment of Russian actors who were involved in hacking emails from the Democratic National Committee in 2016.
“I would not recommend it,” he said with a laugh, when asked how he felt when he discovered that his own personal emails had been leaked.
Although Podesta described himself as “kind of a boring guy” and said his leaked emails were not particularly interesting, he emphasized that the fake news and false conspiracy theories that emerged from the email leak still have a lingering effect on him.
He added that he views the Democratic Party as “more united and coherent” than ever before, pointing to the party’s progressive platform and negotiations with more liberal members like Bernie Sanders. Still, he said a “difference in the level of passion” still exists in the party, and that to effectively appeal to progressive voters, candidates must evoke Sanders by challenging the political structures of Washington, as well as the power of campaign money in elections.
Tracey Olson, a Yale parent who attended the talk, said she has been following Podesta since he began his political career. She added that as someone who was also in college during the Watergate scandal, she agreed with the parallels Podesta drew between the investigation into Nixon and the current inquiry into Trump’s relationship with Russia.
Anusha Manglik ’21 said she was surprised to hear that Podesta wished the Clinton team had used social media more during the campaign.
“To me it was such an obvious thing that you should utilize social media for a successful campaign in the modern day. I guess there is a disconnect between the older generation and younger generation,” Manglik said. “I saw a lot of media from the Bernie campaign, and I was paying a lot of attention to his issues, but Hillary Clinton was just someone in the background.”
Alice Park | firstname.lastname@example.org
Clarification, April 13: The story was updated to more accurately reflect Podesta’s quote on his email leak.