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Axelrod: Accept Trump’s election — and learn from it

David Axelrod (center), a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, hosted a discussion on the 2016 presidential race at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics Thursday. Joining him were Institute Fellows, from the left, Bruce Reed, Liesl Hickey and Phil Revkin. Former Fellow Stuart Stevens appeared via Skype. | Sam Charles/Sun-Times

Republican Donald Trump spent much of his campaign trashing the presidency of Barack Obama as “a disaster,” but despite all that, the man who helped elect Obama and was one of his closest advisers said Thursday that he hopes the nation accepts Trump’s victory.

“What we can’t do is do what Mr. Trump suggested he might do during one of the debates and say ‘If I don’t get the result I like, I’m not going to recognize it,’” David Axelrod said, adding that attitude could be catastrophic in the long-term.

“Then it’s not a legitimate election,” he said. “If that’s the precedent we set, then we’re going to be in this mad cycle of destruction in our democracy.”

Axelrod spoke during a discussion on the results of the 2016 presidential election he was hosting at the University of Chicago, where he is founder and director of the Institute of Politics.

Over the summer, his old boss — President Barack Obama — called Trump “unfit” to be president. Trump responded by describing Obama as “the worst president maybe in the history of our country.”

Walking into a room packed with U of C students Thursday, two days after Trump’s stunning upset, Axelrod, former senior adviser to Obama, started with a joke.

“How’s your week gone so far?” he asked.

Axelrod and other institute fellows went on to discuss a wide range of topics related to the election — including Trump’s stance on trade deals, Hillary Clinton’s struggles to connect with middle-class white voters and the failure of polls to predict Trump’s ascension to the oval office.

Axelrod was joined by Liesl Hickey, Bruce Reed and Philip Revkin, all visiting Fellows at the Institute of Politics. Stuart Stevens, a political strategist and former visiting Fellow, joined the discussion via Skype.

Reed, a Democrat, addressed some of the late-in-the-race pitfalls the Clinton campaign fell subject to that may have contributed to her loss.

“Every minute spent talking about [Trump] was a minute lost talking about the voters and their problems and what we we’re going to do about them,” he said.

They also spoke about the protests against Trump’s election that broke out across major cities Wednesday night. Thousands of protesters marched through Chicago’s downtown area to voice their extreme displeasure. One of their most common chants was “We reject the President-elect.”

But Axelrod said it was critical for the country that the electorate accepts the result. Clinton’s loss, he hoped, would spur action among the electorate.

“My hope is that rather than leaning out, this will cause all of us to lean in and understand the consequences of these elections,” he said.

Revkin spoke about the less-than-warm reaction by much of the rest of the world to Trump’s election.

“Lots and lots of official people around the world are very scared,” Revkin said. “They’re scared because they don’t know these people. They don’t know the Trump people. They don’t know who his advisers are.”

Four years of a Trump presidency should give Democrats plenty of ammunition when they try to retake the White House in four years, Reed said.

“The Trump Administration will be a target-rich environment,” Reed said. “’Saturday Night Live’ is going to be funny again.”

After the discussion ended, Axelrod spoke with some remaining students and said that, despite stark philosophical differences with Trump, he is hoping for his success.

“We only have one president at a time,” he said. “If the president fails there are implications for the country.”