This post has been updated.
It’s almost as if Donald Trump’s campaign manager isn’t even talking to her candidate these days. Almost.
On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway took to NBC’s “Meet the Press” and gamely and forthrightly acknowledged reality. “We are behind,” she said, adding that Trump was down one to four points in key states. (Which is actually a little rosy.)
On Monday morning, Trump appeared to agree with her, telling a local news reporter that he was “somewhat behind in the polls.” Conway was apparently happy with this comment. She tweeted the following at about 3:30 p.m.
The problem? Her own candidate completely disagrees with her assessment that he’s actually behind, and he had already said so multiple times on Monday.
In a fiery and angry speech Monday afternoon in which he ripped into the media, the pollsters and all manner of alleged rigging of the election against him, Trump confidently and repeatedly declared, “We’re winning.” Remarkably, he said this just minutes before Conway’s tweet.
He added later: “Folks, we’re winning. We’re winning. We’re winning.”
And not only that; Trump had also said he was “winning” in a tweet Monday morning.
After all this, Conway sends the tweet she did about Trump acknowledging his deficit? What? Did she not see what her own candidate was saying in his speech or what he tweeted?
This is hardly, of course, the only strange way in which Conway and Trump have appeared to be on separate pages in recent weeks.
There was the whole thing about her playing down the threat of voter fraud, even as he was doubling down. There was also her playing down the idea that Trump actually did mean it when he said he would put Hillary Clinton in jail, before Trump doubled down again. There was that time during Wednesday night’s debate when Conway appeared to disown Trump’s “bad hombres” comment and suggest that it wasn’t something she would want him to say. And then she denied rumors that she would leave the campaign, but also added a dangling “unless....”
Trump is certainly the chaos candidate in this race, but I like to think that the things he and his campaign do at least have somewhat of a strategic aim. In this case, I’m at a loss. What practical purpose is served by having you and your campaign manager publicly disagree about whether you are actually behind in the race — something that inevitably leads to stories like this one about how maybe your campaign is off the rails and has no direction.
One credible theory I’ve heard before is that Trump responds to the things he sees on the news, and one of the ways for Conway to keep him in line is to appear on the news shows herself and kind of steer Trump in the right direction that way.
But regardless of whether that’s the case, what we’re seeing from Conway and Trump these days is edging on bizarre. They are either deliberately creating the appearance of chaos for no discernible reason, or the chaos is real, and they simply can’t hide all of it.
Conway’s comments, as I’ve said before, are of a campaign manager defending a candidate who doesn’t exist. She’s not even defending Trump anymore; she’s defending the candidate she wishes he was.
But he’s still Donald Trump. And she doesn’t appear to know what to do with that.
Update: And here's a VERY illuminating exchange from a profile of Conway on CNN on Monday night. Conway says she and Trump do talk, but also that they fight.
And she suggests that he doesn't take guidance very easily.
BASH: So, give me an example. I’m Donald Trump and you're Kellyanne Conway, and I say something that really makes you mad at my rally.
CONWAY: I told him yesterday, on the plane, "You and I are going to fight for the next 17 days." And he said, "Why?" And I said, "Because I know you're going to win. And that comment you just made sounds like you think you're going to lose. And we're going to argue about it until you win."
BASH: And what's his response?
CONWAY: He’s like, "Okay, honey, then we'll win."