Kellyanne Conway speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). (Gage Skidmore / CC 2.0)
Kellyanne Conway is no stranger to media attention, and a lengthy new profile in New York Magazine illustrates how Conway is becoming “a bona fide celebrity in her own right.”
Reporter Olivia Nuzzi spent 49 days profiling Conway, former Trump campaign manager turned trusted adviser to the president.
“Personally, Conway claims to be sick of herself,” Nuzzi writes. “But she’s also clearly having a lot of fun being the center of attention in what’s surely the strangest era in modern political history.”
Through numerous anecdotes, Nuzzi highlights Conway’s bizarre yet special relationship with the president. She writes:
Conway had settled down to chat with me one day in mid-February as she skimmed some notes and readied herself for a TV appearance, which she claimed would not be treated as an opportunity to get her opinions through to the president, despite the “audience of one” theory that many have used to explain the cable hits she and other members of the administration so often make.
“When I want to talk to him, I go talk to him,” she said, emphasizing that she has “walk-in privileges,” meaning she can waltz into the Oval Office unannounced. “Eighty-five percent of what I discuss with him will never be revealed. It’s like any other boss–C-suite-employee relationship. I don’t need to talk to him through the TV. I just go in and talk to him.” This idea is very important to Conway, and she returns to it often — that she is as close an adviser to the president as there exists in the White House and can bend his ear at any time. (The following day, I asked her via text message if something I’d seen on Twitter was true — that the president had recently unfollowed her. She told me no, that she thought he’d never followed her in the first place — then she asked the president himself. “Hold on,” she texted, complaining all the while that the topic was “small ball.” In real time, I watched the president’s “following” list jump up by one. “I asked if he had unfollowed, convinced he had never followed. He has 30m followers and follows like 42 people!” she wrote. “Now 43.”)
It’s clear Conway is a favorite of Trump and a major force in his administration. She is “a pervasive female double of the president, an extension of his will and much more fiendishly committed to her boss than anyone else working on his behalf,” Nuzzi writes, concluding that Conway is “the functional First Lady of the United States.”
Her popularity, even with “[h]orrified critics of the president,” is unavoidable, Nuzzi continues, offering a glimpse into Conway’s intensely social personality:
With her airy voice and cheeky sense of humor, she’s charming and magnetic almost in the manner of a particularly gifted retail politician, and without the alien creepiness that actually being a politician sometimes requires. She’s a chronic oversharer (one with top-secret security clearance) who will let you in on the most intimate details of her existence in casual conversation. She’s also pathologically social, her life a hamster wheel of meetings, briefings, appearances, interviews, events, and cocktail parties — something that separates her from someone like, say, Bannon.
On Twitter, Nuzzi addressed criticisms that her profile was sympathetic to Conway. “My favorite criticism I get for profiles is that I’ve ‘humanized’ someone you don’t like. Guess what? People are complicated!” she tweeted.
“Lots of things can be true at once,” she continued. “Someone can do something awful & be funny, have bad beliefs & be compelling. Reality isn’t black & white.”
And throughout the profile, Nuzzi does not hold back from addressing Conway’s media manipulations and falsehoods—rather, she delves into Conway’s own logic when she spreads misleading information. “In her capacity as Trump’s spokeswoman, Conway has said many incorrect things,” Nuzzi writes of Conway’s “almost freakish facility with falsehoods.”
When Conway refuses to give in about crowd size, what she’s doing is establishing the terms of future debate in the administration and casting some epistemological doubt on anything she is being asked about. There is an element of true-believer-ness in many of these confrontations, probably, but it also makes for exceptionally shrewd strategy, especially given how little the White House believes its real supporters trust Conway’s interlocutors rather than the voice of the Trump administration itself.
Of course, to hear Conway tell it, nothing that nefarious is going on at all. She shrugs when asked about the inaccurate things she’s said. The Bowling Green Massacre? She meant to say “Bowling Green masterminds,” she told me, referring to the would-be terrorists who were apprehended before they staged an attack. And alternative facts? “Two plus two is four. Three plus one is four. Partly cloudy, partly sunny. Glass half full, glass half empty. Those are alternative facts,” she said, further defining the infamous phrase as “additional facts and alternative information.”
Ultimately, Nuzzi’s fascinating profile of Conway reveals how the intense Trump surrogate has rocketed to one of the president’s closest advisors. “Trump doesn’t appear to feel shame, not in his communications strategy nor in any other part of his life,” Nuzzi declares at one point. “And Conway has become his most convincing doppelgänger by not feeling shame either.”
Read the entire piece here.
—Posted by Emma Niles