“Off the Record” is the Yale Politics Initiative’s master class series on political practice. Guests come to campus to teach one-time, application-only classes capped at twenty-five students. The classes focus on specific case studies in the guests’ areas of expertise, and are designed to leave participants with new skills and a deeper understanding of the guests’ work.
To apply for master classes with our upcoming guests, click the buttons below. You must apply separately to each class that you are interested in taking. Acceptance to one class does not affect your chance of acceptance to another. Our master classes are comprised of students with a wide range of academic and extracurricular interests. We are primarily looking for students who have creative, specific, well-informed questions for our guests.
CEO of the Obama Foundation
Date: February 27 (Application Deadline: February 21)
David Simas is the Chief Executive Officer of the Obama Foundation. A native of Taunton, Massachusetts, he was appointed Deputy Chief of Staff to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in 2007. Simas then joined President Obama’s administration in 2009 as a Deputy Assistant to the President, working with senior advisors David Axelrod and David Plouffe. In 2012, he served as Director of Opinion Research for President Obama's reelection campaign. Following the reelection, Simas returned to the White House as Assistant to the President and Director of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach. Simas holds a B.A. in political science from Stonehill College and a J.D. from Boston College Law School. He serves on the national board of directors of OneGoal and lives in Chicago with his wife, Shauna, and their two daughters.
Black Lives Matter Activist
Date: March 6 (Application Deadline: February 28)
DeRay Mckesson is an American civil rights activist, community organizer, podcast host, and author. He is best known for activism via social media and his gripping, on-the-ground coverage of Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland following the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray.
Mckesson began his career as an organizer in Baltimore as a teen, and he would later go on on to work for Teach for America in New York City. However, following the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson on August 9, 2014, Mckesson decided to leave his job within the Minneapolis Public School system and pursue a career in social activism.
In April 2015, Mckesson and fellow activists Johnetta Elzie, Samuel Sinyangwe, and Brittany Packnett launched "Mapping Police Violence", which collected quantitative data on people killed by police during 2014. Later in 2015, Mckesson and his partners launched Campaign Zero, a ten-point policy plan for police reform. This work, alongside his advocacy on behalf of Black Lives Matter, earned him a spot on Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 greatest world leaders in 2015. He currently hosts the Crooked Media podcast Pod Save the People.
President of Susan B. Anthony List
Date: March 7 (Application Deadline: March 1)
Marjorie Dannenfelser is president and an original organizer of Susan B. Anthony List, a national pro-life organization which seeks to elect pro-life leaders and advance lifesaving laws and policy.
In 1992 Dannenfelser, who had worked for Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, built and grew the Susan B. Anthony List with the goal of increasing the number of pro-life women in federal and statewide office. Since then, SBA List has helped elect more than 111 candidates – women and men – to the U.S. House, 20 to the U.S. Senate, and 23 to other statewide offices across the country. SBA List has more than 690,000 members nationwide.
Marjorie is a convert to the pro-life cause who once described herself as vehemently pro-choice. Her conversion and subsequent leadership in American politics has been profiled by The New Yorker, The Telegraph, The Washington Post, The New York Times, as well as The Hill. She was named one of Politico Magazine’s Top 50 Influencers of 2018 and is counted among The Washington Examiner’s top ten “Political Women on the Move,” Newsmax’s top 25 Most Influential Republican Women and among Newsweek’s top ten “Leaders of the Christian Right.” Marjorie and her husband Marty have five children and live in Arlington, Virginia.
Co-Founder and Executive Director of Run for Something
Date: April 3 (Application Deadline: March 28)
Amanda Litman is the co-founder and executive director of Run for Something, a PAC that helps recruit and support young, diverse progressives running for down-ballot office. Previously, she was the email director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, digital director for Charlie Crist's 2014 Florida gubernatorial campaign, deputy email director for Organizing for Action, and an email writer for Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. She graduated from Northwestern University in 2012 with a B.A. in American Studies.
Former White House Press Secretary
Sean Spicer is an American political operative who served as the twenty-eighth White House Press Secretary and as White House Communications Director under President Donald Trump in 2017.
Before Mr. Spicer established himself as one of the most recognized staffers in the Trump administration, he built a decades-long career in Republican politics, studying and shaping the inner workings of Washington.
From 2003 to 2005, Spicer was the communications director and spokesman for the House Budget Committee. He subsequently served as the communications director for the Republican Conference of the U.S. House of Representatives, and then, from 2006 to 2009, was the assistant for media and public affairs at the Office of the United States Trade Representative in President George W. Bush's administration. More recently, Spicer worked as the communications director of the Republican National Committee from 2011 to 2017, and its chief strategist from 2015 to 2017.
Former White House Chief of Staff
Reince Priebus is an American lawyer and politician who served as White House chief of staff for President Donald Trump from January 20, 2017, until July 31, 2017. He also served as the chairman of the Republican National Committee from 2011 to 2017.
At the start of his first term as chairman of the RNC, Priebus inherited a $23 million debt from his predecessor. Priebus stated that his goals for his leadership were to rebuild the organization's finances, improve relationships with major donors, as well as aiding Republican efforts to take control on Congress. By the end of 2012, Priebus had raised more than $88 million and erased the party’s debt – and in the 2014 midterms the GOP secured a majority in Senate.
After leaving the White House in 2017, Priebus returned to private practice as president and chief strategist of powerhouse law firm Michael Best and Friedrich LLP.
Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign Manager
Robby Mook is a nationally recognized campaign strategist. His most prominent successes include the 2013 election of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and the 2008 election of Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire’s first woman Senator.
Mook has also served as the executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in 2012 and, most notably, as the campaign manager for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign.
Mook is currently a CNN political commentator and a 2017-2018 Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Politics.
Donald Trump’s 2020 Campaign Manager
Brad Parscale was the digital media director for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and currently serves as the campaign manager for Trump's 2020 reelection campaign.
Parscale began working for the Trump Organization in 2011 as a digital media strategist & “guru.” A few years later, in 2015, Trump hired Parscale and his firm, Giles-Parscale, to create a website for his exploratory campaign. Once Trump announced his intention to run for president, Parscale was responsible for running the Donald J. Trump for President website, as well as for media strategy, online fundraising efforts, data science, and polling. He is reportedly responsible for pushing Trump to focus campaign resources on Michigan and Wisconsin – a decision that was instrumental in winning the election.
“A new series of student-sponsored master classes is bringing top-level political operatives to campus, not to talk about their ideologies or partisan points of view, but to reveal the secrets of their winning strategies — completely off the record.”
NRA Spokesperson and Conservative Activist
Dana Loesch is an American conservative political activist, commentator, talk radio host, and author who serves as a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association. She is a former writer and editor for Breitbart News and the host of the program Dana on TheBlaze TV from 2014 to 2017. Loesch has appeared as a guest on television networks such as Fox News, CNN, CBS, ABC, and HBO.
Former President of Planned Parenthood
Cecile Richards is an American pro-choice activist who served as the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund from 2006 to 2018. Under her leadership, the organization’s number of active supporters more than tripled, surpassing ten million. As a result, she was named one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People of 2012.
Before joining Planned Parenthood, Ms. Richards served as deputy chief of staff for House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In 2004, she founded and served as president of America Votes, a coalition of 42 national grassroots organizations working to maximize voter registration, education, and participation. She began her career organizing low-wage workers in the hotel, health care, and janitorial industries throughout California, Louisiana, and Texas.
President of the Center for American Progress
Neera Tanden is the President of the Center for American Progress, a well-known public policy research and advocacy organization associated with the centrist wing of the Democratic Party. During the 2008 election, she served as the policy director for both Hillary Clinton and soon-to-be President Barack Obama.
Tanden went on to work in the Obama administration as senior adviser to Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services, aiding the effort to gain passage of Obama's healthcare legislation.
More recently, Tanden writes a regular column for The New Republic, and she appears regularly as a political analyst and commentator on PBS, MSNBC, CNN, and Fox News programs.
Ted Cruz’s Chief Strategist
Jeff Roe is the founder of Axiom Strategies, the fastest-growing and largest General Consulting political firm in the nation. Roe is best known for his data-driven and bare-knuckled approach to politics as well as his role as campaign manager for Ted Cruz's 2016 run for president.
Axiom has helped elect 52 congressmen, 8 senators and 6 governors nationwide. In addition to political and ballot initiative campaigns, Jeff's team regularly consults and provides crisis management to 8 Fortune 500 companies and over 20 public corporations on federal, state and local issues.
In 2016, Fox News Sunday's Chris Wallace proclaimed Jeff was the "man behind the secret to Ted Cruz's ground game." Jeff is famous for his attention to detail and his strategic focus on the science of messaging, such as the Houston Chronicle explains, his desire to "keep a piece of campaign literature in a targeted voter's hands for 48 seconds or more - instead of the industry average of 24 seconds - before it goes in the trash." Others have noted that Ted Cruz's campaign was perhaps "the most sophisticated" the first in the nation caucus state had ever witnessed. On MSNBC, pundits covering the 2016 primary said that Jeff Roe has become the 'rock star' in politics created each cycle to the likes of Lee Atwater, James Carville and David Plouffe. According to the Washington Post, "Ted Cruz ran the best campaign of any Republican politician in the 2016 primary."
From the halls of the Capitol to the agencies that operate the country, Tony draws on his unique mastery of how the nation’s capital works to navigate the policy landscape. Dubbed one of DC’s “50 heavy lifters” by the Financial Times and “one of Washington’s biggest players” by The New York Times, Tony leverage what POLITICO calls an “in-the-trenches sensibility” to offer expert tactical guidance informed by decades of legislative, political and public relations experience.
Tony has been distinguished by The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times, The New York Times, GQ, Newsweek and Bloomberg Businessweek, among other publications both inside and outside the Beltway, as a leading lobbyist in Washington today. In addition to being named one of the top 11 lawyer-lobbyists of the last decade by Legal Times, Tony was named “The Lobbyist” by Newsweek, and he has consistently been named a top lobbyist by Roll Call and The Hill newspapers. According to The New York Times, “His clients are going to get a blueprint for how to succeed in official Washington.” Named a “Washington super lobbyist” by Bloomberg Businessweek and dubbed by POLITICO as “a king of K Street,” Tony has led the way on some of the most significant policy debates in recent history, honing expertise that ranges from health care to financial services to technology.
Top GOP Strategist and Pollster
Frank Luntz is one of the most honored communication professionals in America today. “The Nostradamus of pollsters,” said Sir David Frost, while Time magazine named him one of “50 of America’s most promising leaders aged 40 and under,” and Newsweek magazine identified him as No. 24 on their Power Elite survey. In 2012, he finished 87th in a Time magazine global poll of the “most influential people in the world.” Frank was named one of the four “Top Research Minds” by Business Week, “the hottest pollster” by The Boston Globe, and was a winner of The Washington Post’s coveted “Crystal Ball” award for being the most accurate pundit. His focus groups have become so influential that presidential candidate Barack Obama had this to say following the PBS presidential debate: “When Frank Luntz invites you to talk to his focus group, you talk to his focus group.”
The “Instant Response” focus group technique pioneered by Frank has been profiled on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America (on Election Day), and on PBS’s award-winning Frontline. He has been a guest on virtually every talk show in America, including multiple appearances on The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Real Time with Bill Maher, as well as Meet the Press, Nightline, The Today Show, Charlie Rose, The PBS NewsHour, Face the Nation, and Tavis Smiley. His reoccurring segments on MSNBC/CNBC, “100 Days, 1000 Voices” won the coveted Emmy Award in 2001.
Patti Solis Doyle
Hillary Clinton’s 2008 Campaign Manager
Patti Solis Doyle is a nationally recognized political organizer and campaign strategist. She speaks regularly on the rise of women and minorities in politics, presidential campaigns, and issues affecting Hispanic Americans. Solis Doyle is also a CNN political contributor.
She is President of Solis Strategies, a communications firm serving non-profits, NGOs, and corporations. Solis Doyle has more than 20 years of experience in politics, presidential campaigns and public service. She began her career working on Richard Daley’s campaign for Mayor of Chicago and later worked at Chicago City Hall. In 1991, she was among the first to join then Governor Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign. She served as a senior advisor to Hillary Clinton throughout that campaign and two terms in the White House. In 2000, Solis Doyle served as chief of staff to the First Lady’s first Senate campaign. She later managed Senator Clinton’s political operations, PAC and 2006 re-election campaign. As campaign manager of Clinton’s presidential bid (from January 2007 through February 2008), Solis Doyle was the first Hispanic woman to lead a presidential campaign.
Hillary Clinton’s Chief Strategist and Barack Obama’s Lead Pollster
Joel Benenson, founder and CEO of Benenson Strategy Group, is the only Democratic pollster in history to have played a leading role in three winning presidential campaigns — making him the "go-to guy for any politico wanting to take the public's temperature," according to GQ. Joel has been the chief pollster and a senior strategist for President Barack Obama since the beginning of his 2008 campaign, and worked on President Bill Clinton’s polling team during the 1996 race.
Joel has been named "Pollster of the Year" by the American Association of Political Consultants, among the "most powerful" people in D.C. by GQ magazine, and a part of "the new lineup in Washington" by Newsweek magazine. He was also included on The New Republic's "The O-List," which identified the 30 most influential players in Obama's 2008 run for office. Joel and the firm also won the Ogilvy Award Gold Medal for Government and Public Service.