Kellyanne Conway hasn't cited any imaginary massacres lately or coined another phrase as clumsy as “alternative facts,” but her television appearances remain plagued by a persistent problem: She seems out of the White House loop.
On “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday, Conway, whose title is counselor to the president, was unable to provide insight into President Trump's thinking on tax reform, border security and the federal budget. Here's one exchange with Brian Kilmeade:
KILMEADE: Now, Kellyanne, it seems like you’re doing immigration reform little by little. Let’s bolster the border. Let’s get rid of the criminals. Next thing you know, you could end up at comprehensive, only did it phase by phase. Could that same approach be with taxes, when — when most Democrats and Republicans agree the corporate rate should be lower and find out different things that can be done that they agree on and then build up? Or are you looking to do everything at once?
CONWAY: Well, the president has promised this will be the most dramatic tax reform relief package in decades — literally since President Reagan, and some say even bolder than that. And so, as you know, secretaries Mnuchin and Ross, and Gary Cohn, and the president, of course, are working very hard on this. And that’s — and all options are on the table, but these meetings are happening this week, as well. Um, also today, Governor Christie is in town; he’s the head of the president’s commission on opioid and drug addiction.
This is a classic example of Conway's three-step process for deflecting a question she doesn't know the answer to.
1. Paraphrase something the president already said.
2. Borrow a phrase from the banality bank. “Working very hard” and “all options are on the table” will do nicely.
3. Change the subject.
At the end of Conway's 72-second answer (which was longer than the excerpt above), viewers still had no idea whether Trump's strategy is to reform the tax code piece by piece or in one fell swoop.
Later, Ainsley Earhardt asked about the wall Trump has vowed to erect along the United States' border with Mexico:
EARHARDT: Kellyanne, the president said he’s going to delay the funding for the wall so that the government doesn’t shut down. Why did he come to this conclusion? ’Cause he’s being more flexible by doing this so that government doesn’t shut down, but he’s not going to get that $1.1 billion to build the wall, necessarily — at least not this week.
CONWAY: Not this week, but the president made clear just yesterday, Ainsley, building the wall remains a very important priority to him. He also reminded people that there’s the flow of illegal immigrants over the border, but there’s also the flow of drugs, and I don’t really hear a lot of Democrats talk about that. The president’s made very clear that drugs are poisoning our youth and others; he said it again just yesterday.
Again, Conway repeated Trump's remarks and pivoted to the scourge of drugs. She seemed to have no knowledge of how Trump arrived at his decision not to dig in on funding the border wall this week. If she was part of those deliberations, she certainly said nothing to indicate her involvement.
Finally, Steve Doocy asked about a major sticking point in budget negotiations:
DOOCY: So, Kellyanne, one of the things about the budget that’s unresolved is whether or not Republicans want to include payments to health insurers to keep Obamacare afloat. Is that money going in there?
CONWAY: Well, that’s being discussed this week. Again, all options are on the table, obviously, and the president and Director [Mick] Mulvaney and others have expressed confidence that the government will not be shut down, that they’ll be able to avoid a shutdown, and that’s a huge priority. But all of these — you know, the Democrats have made their demands, and the Republicans control the White House, the House and the Senate and understand how important it is to have this budget and the shutdown averted.
Aaand we're back to “all options are on the table.”
Recall what Mulvaney said on Bloomberg TV on Friday: “We'd offer $1 of payments for $1 of wall payments right now. That is the offer we have given to our Democratic colleagues.”
Clearly not all options are on the table, because that deal is off the table. Because on Monday, Trump withdrew his demand for wall payments. Do Republicans have a new proposal? Conway didn't seem to know the status of negotiations.
When MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” a “Fox & Friends” competitor, said in February that it would no longer book Conway as a guest, co-host Joe Scarborough said, “She's in none of the key meetings. … She's just saying things, just to get in front of the TV set and prove her relevance because behind the scenes — behind the scenes, she's not in these meetings.”
Two months later, Conway does not appear any more plugged in than she did then.