It hasn't gotten a ton of attention yet, but Kellyanne Conway may have offered the White House's most controversial and dangerous statement of the week on Friday — up to and including President Trump's tweets about MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski.
While defending those tweets on ABC's “Good Morning America,” Conway went so far as to question the news media's patriotism.
“If you go back and you look at what is said about this president, a lack of policy coverage, there are personal attacks about his physicalities, about his fitness for office, he's called a goon, a thug, mentally ill, talking about dementia, armchair psychologists all over television every single day,” Conway said. “George, it doesn't help the American people to have a president covered in this light. I'm sorry, it's neither productive nor patriotic. The toxicity is over the top.”
I think I know what Conway is up to here. During a segment on her show last month, Brzezinski was the one questioning the president's patriotism. “I know it is a terrible thing to question someone's patriotism, but you wonder what he cares about,” Brzezinski said on May 24. She added that previous presidents have been “inspired to perhaps really dig deep and be driven by patriotism; I haven't seen it.”
It's not difficult to see the media raising a fuss about Conway's quote about being “patriotic,” only to have Conway throw Brzezinski's May 24 comments right back in its face. Boom, double standard from the media.
But here's the thing — and it's something that ABC host George Stephanopoulos rightly pressed Conway on in their interview: Each president faces criticism, sometimes extremely full-throated and even over-the-line, from pundits and journalists whose job it is to give their opinions. Brzezinski's questioning of Trump's patriotism was something an old version of Brzezinski herself said was over that line. “I question the patriotism of someone who questions the president’s patriotism,” she said back in 2015, when Trump ally Rudolph W. Giuliani questioned President Barack Obama's patriotism.
The question for voters to decide is whether each individual journalist's potentially overzealous critiques of Trump give the White House license to undermine the entire news media.
And the greatest irony here is that Trump is hardly a stranger to the nastiest of innuendo-laden political smears. Trump spent years questioning Obama's birth certificate, after all. That's going beyond questioning one's patriotism; it was about Obama's very legitimacy.
Without that track record, it might be a little easier to take the White House's complaints about the “toxicity” and “viciousness” of politics seriously. And without that history, it might be in a better position to argue that over-the-top criticism of a president isn't patriotic.