Grading on a curve, Kellyanne Conway is doing A-plus work for Donald Trump. She hasn’t manhandled a reporter as Corey Lewandowski did. She’s not tied up with Russian oligarchs as Paul Manafort has been. But in absolute terms, her tenure has gotten off to a rocky start and her appearance on the Sunday shows was misguided if not semi-disastrous.
To recap Trump’s travails since she came on: He made a condescending speech to African Americans that only magnified his cluelessness. He insisted on grandstanding in Baton Rouge, only to be told off by the governor and exclude the press anyway. As money figures were released, there was confirmation of how little of what he purportedly raised is going to his campaign (about $37 million of $80 million raised); how lavishly he spent on consultants and in payments to his own entities; and how badly his campaign and super PACs trail Hillary Clinton’s money operation. The latter fundraising troubles were not on Conway’s watch, but she did little to pave the way by downgrading expectations.
Next, the Huffington Post reports that she must treat Trump like a baby, flattering him (“she has a whole vocabulary of diplomatic words”) and keeping bad news away (“Kelly’s telling Trump what he wants to hear”). That’s horrible if true because it portrays him as crippled by his own ego and demonstrates that Trump can abide only women with whom he agrees. (“That’s the kind of woman he likes around, who can tell him the soft way — encourage him, guide him but not criticize him.”) That’s humiliating, frankly, but it certainly jibes with a narcissistic personality. If Conway really is helping Trump escape from reality, she is doing Trump, the party and the country no good. Then there were her remarks on Sunday, which were at times bizarre.
She couldn’t say if Trump was changing a central tenet of his campaign, his deportation of 11 million people. (“To be determined,” she said of a policy he’s advocated for over a year.)
After saying before she joined Trump’s campaign that she didn’t like politics of denigration, she had to insist, “He doesn’t hurl personal insults.” Who believes such preposterous spin?
She lied that Trump had apologized in public to Capt. Humayun Khan’s parents. She also let it be known that he has not apologized to anyone personally. It was painful to watch:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: So what specifically does Mr. Trump regret saying?CONWAY: He has said that he wants to regret anytime he’s caused somebody personal pain by saying something that he didn’t intend to cause personal pain. And I think those who have received it privately should take that expression of regret.STEPHANOPOULOS: So he’s called the Khan family?He’s called John McCain and apologized?CONWAY: No, he’s expressed his regret publicly and said if I have caused you personal pain — that can include me, that can include you — that he regrets that. And that’s the Donald Trump —(CROSSTALK)STEPHANOPOULOS: But that’s regretting what they feel, not what he said.CONWAY: No, no, that’s regretting that — he said if I have chosen the wrong words or said something in a way I didn’t intend, then I regret that.But this is exactly what people love. They love humility. They love accessibility. They love authenticity. And I’m just amazed that the Hillary team has responded in yet another attack on Donald Trump.
And of course she had to spin on his refusal to release his taxes, which she previously said he should do. “I’ve learned since on being the inside that this audit is a serious matter and that he has said that when the audit is complete, he’ll release his tax returns,”she said. (So he’s in big trouble with the IRS?) And as if to underscore that she was dishing out spin, she added, “I also know as a pollster that what concerns people most about, quote, ‘taxes’ is their own tax liability.” In other words, he thinks he can get away with it.
Finally, confronted with criticism of Trump’s condescending speech about African Americans, she let on it was all about catering to white people. “Those comments are for all Americans. And I live in a white community. I’m white. I was very moved by his comment. In other words, he is trying to tell Americans that we can do better.” Translation: He was telling white people he’s not as racist as they might have suspected.
Listen, Conway has an impossible job — trying to make Trump into a respectable candidate. She is far and away the most competent and experienced person on the team. From the outside, she’s also the most “normal” person he’s had in any senior position. But she has never run a presidential campaign. Moreover, she seems to have forgotten the first rule of campaigns: When you are going to be asked questions for which there are no good answers, don’t go on TV.