Opinion writer

The administration did not have the nerve to put the vice president or any Cabinet official out on the Sunday shows to defend its “zero tolerance” policy and the result mass separation of children from their families at the border. You did not see Stephen Miller out there, nor the White House official who told The Post that it was a great idea to use kids to extract immigration concessions from Congress. Instead, the administration sent out counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, a woman who has demonstrated time and time again she will say anything — no matter how preposterous — to defend this president.

Her performance — and that is what we should call it — on “Meet the Press” was stunningly disingenuous. She shed crocodile tears for the immigrant kids and invoked her own Catholicism to demonstrate how concerned she was about the children her boss is snatching away from the arms of their parents. She blamed the Democrats, the courts and even  lack of money. This cowardly non-defense suggests that she knows the policy is wrong but hasn’t the nerve to call for its end:

CHUCK TODD: Is the president ready to make that phone call to the attorney general, to [the Department of Homeland Security], to stop this policy?

CONWAY: The president is ready to get meaningful immigration reform across the board. And Chuck, let me just tell you that nobody likes seeing babies ripped from their mothers’ arms, from their mothers’ wombs, frankly. But we have to make sure that DHS’s laws are understood through the soundbite culture that we live in. … These loopholes are allowing open border policies. I think what the president is saying is if the Democrats are serious, they’ll come together again and try to close these loopholes and get real immigration reform.

TODD: So it sounds like, and this is going to sound harsh, but it sounds like you’re holding these kids hostage. … To get the Democrats to the table to pass some law. You just laid out — a very compassionate case for —

CONWAY: Well, I certainly don’t agree with that.

TODD: . . . But it’s not very empathetic — the most traumatic things to do to a kid? Separate them from their parents once they’ve made that traumatic journey. Why do that right now? I understand we have an immigration debate going on in this country. Why use these kids as leverage?

CONWAY: Well, I certainly don’t want anybody to use these kids as leverage.

Evasion, denial and blame-shifting. You’d think she didn’t work in the White House and couldn’t tell her boss to reverse course.

Bizarrely, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen claimed, “We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.” If only Conway knew that when she ineptly tried to defend the indefensible policy.

Melania Trump made a rare effort to weigh in on a policy issue. “Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform,” a statement from her spokeswoman read. “She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart.”

We actually don’t need “both sides” to come together. President Trump instituted a zero-tolerance policy and has continued to carry out child separations with ruthless efficiency. If he needs new funding, his Republican allies control Congress. So what is the problem here?

Al Cardenas, a longtime Republican donor and strategist, let loose on the GOP after Conway’s horrifying performance on “Meet the Press”:

I’m a refugee. I came to America. I experienced it. The pain, the heartbreak of a child about that experience will never go away in their lifetime. And to justify that by saying they have a clean bed and food is — is such a cruel comment regarding what’s going on with the children and their hearts and their parents. I will debunk two myths or lies from the White House right now. Number one, things are not the same as before on two areas. Number one, Office of Refugee Resettlement. Before this White House changed the rules, they would be the ones that would intake these children. They would interview. Most of these children had relatives here, mostly undocumented. And they would turn the children over to these relatives. The president of the United States changed it and gave ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] the jurisdiction that the Office of Refugee Resettlement for decades has had.  . . . And the second policy that’s really all here, the president has total authority to deal with the separation of children. And so all of those arguments are fallacious. In the meantime, we’ve had more than 2,000 children separated in just a few weeks. That’s deplorable. It’s wrong. And this thing needs to get fixed.

It was left to former first lady Laura Bush to make the most stirring and convincing case against the Trump policy. “I appreciate the need to enforce and protect our international boundaries, but this zero-tolerance policy is cruel. It is immoral. And it breaks my heart,” she wrote in an op-ed for The Post. “Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We also know that this treatment inflicts trauma; interned Japanese have been two times as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease or die prematurely than those who were not interned.”

The problem is that Republicans have become so invested in anti-immigrant furor that they cannot stop, even if they wind up humiliating themselves and doing real political damage to the party. Rick Santorum — Mr. Family Values — appearing on CNN blamed the parents; they shouldn’t have come, he intoned. First, these are desperate people who in many cases are escaping violence and potential death. Second, it is not acceptable for a decent and humane country to visit the sins of the parent on the child. We are responsible for that child — morally required to, at the very least, not traumatize him or her for life.

As with so many of his scandals and outrages, Trump doesn’t want to accept blame for his own decisions. Here, there should be no doubt that he could stop child separation. But he won’t. Americans regardless of party should speak with one voice. Enough.