George Conway, according to the succinct bio accompanying the essays he publishes in national media sharply criticizing the Trump administration, is “a lawyer in New York.” Which is true, but this description is like calling George W. Bush “a painter with an exhibit at the Kennedy Center.” Also true, weirdly, but that’s not why anybody’s buying tickets.
George Conway is known for being a vehement Never Trumper, but what he’s really known for is being the husband of Kellyanne Conway. Who is herself a senior counselor to President Trump.
George has become the toast of the resistance. Not because of what he says; scores of learned experts have spent the past three years furiously penning similar arguments. He has become the toast of the resistance mostly because we know who his wife is. He’s riding her coattails while on an apparent mission that would, ultimately, put her out of a job. Which makes the whole thing more . . . diabolical? More squalid? More delicious?
“There is a cancer in the presidency,” George wrote in April; in June he described one of Trump’s briefs as “spectacularly anti-constitutional.” He seemed to peak in July, calling his wife’s boss “racist,” as well as “boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive.” Then, last week he hit a new apex with a massive, 12,000-word piece in the Atlantic, whose scathing contents, while weaving the articles of the Constitution into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, could be boiled down to the story’s title: “Unfit for Office.”
On a sweeping historical level, these are shocking things for a conservative to publicly say about a sitting GOP president. On a personal level — they’re shocking things for someone to publicly say about his wife’s boss. The behaviors and worldviews Conway denounces are the very behaviors and worldviews that his wife spends her waking hours shaping and enabling. The regime he finds abhorrent is the regime his wife, Trump’s former campaign manager, worked to build.
Can you imagine? I’m not saying whose perspective is right (George’s is right), I’m just saying that if many of us publicly insulted our wives’ bosses that way, either we wouldn’t have wives or our wives wouldn’t have bosses.
But there they are, George and Kellyanne and Donald, staggering on in their bizarre throuple through various circles of perdition: Trump calls George “a husband from hell.” Kellyanne goes on Fox News, again, to defend Trump. George tweets about Trump’s “narcissism and sociopathy.”
And then! Last weekend, Kellyanne’s cousin married Vice President Pence’s nephew, and — cheers to the happy couple — the Conways attended the wedding together.
Massive, 12,000-word stories in major magazines don’t come out of nowhere; they take weeks to produce. Does that mean George spent weeks feverishly hiding his activities from his life partner? Or does that mean he was coming home every night and giving Kellyanne blow-by-blows, gloating about the new insults he’d created to denigrate her life’s work? If Kellyanne knew, did she tell the president? And then what happened?
These are the Conways-at-home scenarios I find myself actively imagining. What are their specific pathologies? How can either of them stay married to the other? This isn’t James Carville and Mary Matalin; this is “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Is this all part of an act — a long con for a co-authored book deal? Why can’t we look away?
The tawdriness of watching George Conway drag Trump through the mud gets at so much of our psychology these days. It’s the proof that, yes, politics really are ripping families apart. It’s the validation, for liberals, that someone within Trump’s tribe is willing to call him a fraud. It’s the sense, for conservatives, that some people really do care more about stopping Trump than they care about anything else.
And it’s the shame. I think, for the people who have “George Conway” on a Google news alert, who eagerly wait to see what he’s going to say next, what they’re really savoring is the imagined shame of it all, traveling from George through Kellyanne to Donald Trump. Here is a president who seems not to feel shame but who does seem to fear, more than anything else, appearing weak or emasculated.
We’re watching not a love triangle but six or seven of them.
George, cheating on Kellyanne with his democratic principles.
Kellyanne, torn between a domestic partner and a professional one.
America, wondering what George might know that we don’t and how this will end, and what’s going to happen in one or five years when this administration is over and we all have to look at each other again, asking ourselves: Is that what you thought of me? Now that I know that, can we ever go back?
And the president of the United States impotent and metaphorically cuckolded on a regular basis, as his trusted adviser’s spouse spanks him on Twitter.
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Monica Hesse is a columnist writing about gender and its impact on society. For more visit wapo.st/hesse.