Fox News host Sean Hannity broadcast his show from the stage of the Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday, inviting White House counselor Kellyanne Conway to join him. In making her pitch to sympathetic audiences both in the room and watching from home, Conway inadvertently revealed a fundamental reason that President Trump remains as broadly unpopular nationally as he is.
“Is Trump going to solve this problem of school shootings?” Hannity asked.
He is, Conway replied.
“I think we should all be very grateful that Donald J. Trump is the president at this time,” she said. “For the president of the United States to hold back-to-back sessions, yesterday and today — today, public safety, school safety … yesterday, to have the parents and the students there and those who have suffered over the years including last week in Florida — Sean, this is a man who’s always listening.”
“He has listened to the Angel Moms and Dads,” Conway continued, referring to parents whose children were killed by immigrants in the country illegally. “He’s listened to the Obamacare victims. He’s listened to the coal miners. He’s listened to the families and the business owners come to the White House and say how they would spend the tax savings that they would get from any cut. He’s listened to big business to small business to aspiring entrepreneurs to young people all across the country whose future is more prosperous and more safe because of him.”
We’ll grant that Conway was talking to Fox’s most rabidly supportive host in front of one of the most enthusiastically supportive crowds she’s likely to encounter. But it’s still worth picking out the specific case that she’s making.
First, that two events on two days constitutes “always listening.” Those events lasted about two hours in total. He had nothing scheduled on Thursday afternoon, but he carved out time to watch Fox News that night. Unless he broke out of his long-standing habits, there’s little question that he spent more time listening to cable news this week than he spent in those public sessions Conway mentioned.
He certainly may have been reaching out to people behind the scenes. We know that he did make calls to some survivors of the Parkland shooting in addition to visiting a hospital in the area for an hour on Friday on his way to Mar-a-Lago. One of those calls, reported by the New York Times, didn’t go well.
“Talking to the president, I’ve never been so unimpressed by a person in my life,” shooting victim Samantha Fuentes said. “He didn’t make me feel better in the slightest.”
But Conway’s point was that Trump was listening well, not speaking. So who does she remind us he listens to?
Supporters of Trump’s position on immigration and the wall.
Supporters of scaling back Obamacare.
Supporters of Trump’s energy policies.
Supporters of his tax plan.
This is precisely the attitude that has guided Trump since he first declared his candidacy. Those willing to support him get his ear. Those who opposed him or who hold contrary opinions rarely get an audience and seldom see any expenditure of political capital.
In that sense, the event on Wednesday involving students from Parkland was a deviation from the norm. Trump was challenged directly, though it doesn’t seem to have reshaped his position on gun issues.
Generally, though, Conway’s presentation of who is listened to is right on. Trump listens to people who agree with him. That, after all, is why he constantly watches Fox News and Hannity. It’s why his constant calls for unity often ring so hollow. Trump wants America to unite in support of him as president but has done very little to address — or often even to hear — the concerns of the political opponents whom he now serves.
It’s impossible not to note, as many others have, how Trump prepared for that event with students that Conway celebrated as an example of his willingness to listen. As he sat there during the event with students on Wednesday, Trump held a card with talking points that included, as its last item, a nudge to say, “I hear you.”
A little reminder can never hurt.