It started — as everything does now — with a tweet.
On Monday morning, President Trump put Ohio Gov. John Kasich in his 280-character crosshairs. Referencing Republican candidate Troy Balderson’s apparent squeaker win against Democrat Danny O’Connor in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District, the president shoveled blame for a close call in a once solid GOP district directly on Kasich, a past campaign rival.
“The very unpopular Governor of Ohio (and failed presidential candidate) @JohnKasich hurt Troy Balderson’s recent win by tamping down enthusiasm for an otherwise great candidate,” the president tweeted.
But piping in from the Internet ether with a timely fact-check was a surprising — but increasingly regular — presidential critic. George Conway, the conservative lawyer and husband of Trump adviser and cable television surrogate Kellyanne Conway, retweeted the presidential statement but tacked on his own message. Conway linked to a recent Cincinnati Enquirer/Suffolk poll of Ohio. The data shows that rather than being “very unpopular,” only 34.8 percent of Buckeye State residents had an unfavorable opinion of their governor.
Trump, however, notched a 58.6 percent unfavorability among Ohioans in the same poll.
Anyone tuning into Conway’s Twitter feed, which has more than 86,000 followers, can notice a current of shade directed at the administration. Conway usually confines his criticism to retweets of critical appraisals of the White House or unflattering breaking news about the president.
Hours before torpedoing Trump’s claim about Kasich’s unpopularity in Ohio, Conway shared posts questioning why, if current administration Kryptonite Omarosa Manigault Newman was such a terrible person, as the president said Monday, she was hired to work in the White House to begin with. Perhaps rubbing it in, at least one of the retweeted tweets came from a reporter for The Washington Post, which Trump regularly scorns as a “lobbyist for Amazon,” because the paper is owned by Amazon founder Jeffrey P. Bezos.
Conway, however, has also launched his own thoughts into the Twittersphere. In March, for example, he shared a New York Times article about Trump’s attorneys discussing pardoning two former aides. “This is flabbergasting,” Conway wrote. In his boldest break yet with the White House, in June Conway penned a 3,500-word essay defending the constitutionality of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation. The deeply-reasoned argument was a direct shot across the bow of an administration increasingly frantic to undermine the probe’s legitimacy.
As the spouse of a key figure in the chaotic menagerie of the Trump administration, Conway is an unlikely Trump troll. But his own résumé also makes his steady criticism surprising.
As The Washington Post has reported, in the 1990s he was one of the lawyers — along with future pundit Ann Coulter — working the backstage with Paula Jones’s attorney against President Bill Clinton. He is also in the orbit of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group handpicking Trump’s judicial picks.
Conway’s conservative bona fides were strong enough he was once in consideration for a job at the Justice Department in Trump’s administration. Instead, Conway pulled himself from consideration and now continues to check and chide the president from his online perch.
“I’ve known him for 30 years, and George follows what George thinks,” Northwestern University law professor and Federalist Society co-founder Steven Calabresi told Politico in May. “He speaks his own mind. If I were George, I wouldn’t do this. But his tweets do not come as a surprise to me.”
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