Update: In the latest example of this phenomenon, Conway told MSNBC on Wednesday that she doesn't "believe" there will be widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election and that, "absent overwhelming evidence that there is, it would not be for me to say that there is."
Trump, though, has spent the better portion of recent days making the case that a "rigged" election could be stolen from him and that massive voter fraud does exist. He tweeted this just Monday:
Of course there is large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day. Why do Republican leaders deny what is going on? So naive!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 17, 2016
Trump's claim about "large scale voter fraud" simply doesn't jibe with Conway's comments. This is yet another example of Conway not really defending what Trump is saying at all. Below, we ran through more examples.
Donald Trump said at Sunday's debate that, if he were president, Hillary Clinton would "be in jail."
Afterward, Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway dismissed it as a "quip." And Wednesday evening on CNN, she argued that his words shouldn't be taken literally. Here's the crux of her argument:
BRIANNA KEILAR: He's talking about going around the democratic process. I mean, talking about jailing your political opponent is something that you . . .
CONWAY: No, he's not. He's talking about the result. No, he's not. You're taking it literally. And you're just stuck on this one thing.
The problem? Just hours prior, Trump had said again — flatly — that Clinton should "go to jail."
"She has to go to jail," he said Wednesday in Lakeland, Fla. "And her law firm, which is a very big and powerful law firm . . . those representatives within that law firm that did that have to go to jail."
Trump's comment at Sunday's debate could be seen as spur-of-the-moment and even ambiguous. Was he saying that if he had been president, his appointees would have been more focused on law and order and would have come down harder on her? Maybe.
His comments on Wednesday, though, are unambiguous. Trump isn't just calling for a special prosecutor; he's preordaining the result of that investigation and case against Clinton. What's more, his campaign has actually promoted the idea that Clinton should be in jail.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 10, 2016
In other words, this wasn't a one-off comment by Trump; this is now a theme of his campaign. And yet there is Conway left to argue that he doesn't actually mean the words that are coming out of his mouth and that her campaign is promoting.
That's a really tough thing to do, as Conway's interviews this week show.
In a semi-painful interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" on Wednesday morning, George Stephanopoulos pressed her pretty hard:
STEPHANOPOULOS: But he's threatening to use the power of the presidency to put her in jail.
CONWAY: It wouldn't be up to him whether or not she goes to jail. That would have to be fully adjudicated through the regular channels, like it would be for anyone else." . . .
STEPANOPOULOS: But he's not calling for the regular channels; he's calling for a special prosecutor.
CONWAY: We'll have to see if he's elected president, if that makes any sense.
And here's the rest of her interview with CNN's Keilar, in which things got heated:
KEILAR: I'm talking about what your candidate is saying, which is more important than what you are saying about this. He is saying she has to go to jail. He's not talking about she has to stand and be judged. He's saying she has to go to jail.
CONWAY: And? In other words, what are you saying? You're saying that he had to stop and say and here's how you get to jail, here's the process? That's completely ridiculous.
KEILAR: Well, it shouldn't be. . .
CONWAY: (INAUDIBLE) the end result (INAUDIBLE)...
KEILAR: — I mean he's talking about a predetermined end result here.
CONWAY: No, he's talking about what a lot of Americans want to know, why the heck this woman wasn't punished at all and why news outlets like this one think that's okay.
But Conway is offering a false choice here. Trump isn't using "go to jail" as a shorthand for a complex legal process; he's using it to whip up his supporters and be provocative. And, in the process, he's clearly going further than his campaign manager is comfortable with.
The funny thing is, he doesn't need to do it. It's totally valid to argue that many Americans think Clinton got off easy. A Washington Post-ABC News poll in July showed that 56 percent disagreed with the FBI's decision not to recommend charges against her. This is fruitful territory for the Trump campaign.
But as with most things involving Trump, he insists upon taking it two steps further. He isn't just calling for a special prosecutor — a move that in and of itself would perhaps reek of politicizing the legal process after the FBI has already investigated — he's saying exactly what the conclusion of that process would be. His words are clear; he believes a process should be set up that would lead to Clinton being in jail.
And the only thing left for Conway to do is argue that Trump's words don't actually mean anything, which is a hell of a spot to be in for your top aide.