If you happened to watch CNN on Friday morning, you saw a brutal exchange about Russian hacking between a righteous anchor with steam coming out of his ears and a right-wing operative with ice in her veins.
“Chris Cuomo bulldozes Kellyanne Conway,” said a headline in one of the many publications so impressed by the encounter that they reported on it.
If you happened to watch CNN on Monday morning, you saw that Conway was actually back with Cuomo for more.
Surprised? Then you don’t know the first thing about her.
She’s no mere mouthpiece, no measly surrogate. She’s more like the David Blaine of political spin, intent on working feats of magic that few others would attempt and surviving situations that would cripple any ordinary mortal. He catches a bullet in his mouth; she makes Donald Trump sound like a humble servant of the common man. He lasts 44 days in a plexiglass case over the Thames; she lasts 40 minutes with Rachel Maddow on MSNBC.
She reunited with Cuomo not just to pooh-pooh Vladimir Putin’s misdeeds anew but to answer Meryl Streep’s complaint about the way Trump once mocked a disabled journalist. And she came up with that gem about disregarding the president-elect’s words and judging him instead by what’s in his heart, which she apparently knows to be good. She has done Blaine one better. She’s a stuntwoman anda cardiologist.
As the Cabinet nominees submit to their inquisitions and Trump holds his first news conference since the election, there’s a surfeit of political spectacle this week.
But for sheer, jaw-dropping wonder, I doubt that any of it will improve on a typical Conway television interview, which is a circus of euphemisms, a festival of distractions and a testament to the stamina of a willed smile. She looks cheery when attacking, even cheerier when attacked and absolutely radiant when descending into a bog of half-truths and fictions. It’s always sunny on Conway’s side of the street.
And it’s always a landslide when her candidate wins. She describes Trump’s victory as a mandate — never mind its narrowness or all that Russian nefariousness — and dismisses his critics by citing their inability to see that heady triumph coming. They had no foresight. Now they have no grounds.
Waving away what Hollywood stars said about Trump at the Golden Globes, she told Cuomo: “That place, this network, frankly, all believed the election would turn out a different way.”
She also questioned why Streep would go after Trump and not the “four young African-American adults in Chicago screaming racial anti-Trump expletives” at a disabled young man in that chilling Facebook Live video. Is this the new bar for taking Trump to task? You can’t do it until you’ve completed a roll call of every bully in the news?
“Saturday Night Live” is transfixed by Conway, but they don’t get her quite right. As portrayed by Kate McKinnon, she experiences pinpricks of horror over abetting Trump’s ascent. The real-life Conway shows no such remorse. She’s exultant to the point of taunting Hillary Clinton’s aides for their defeat, as she did when she appeared with them at Harvard in December for an election post-mortem.
That was the occasion of my favorite Conway-ism. She was asked if Trump’s baseless insistence that he would have won the popular vote except for millions of illegal ballots constituted presidential behavior.
“He’s the president-elect, so that’s presidential behavior,” she said.
Many journalists don’t get Conway quite right, either, assigning her more power in Trump World than she has. When you’re doing that much TV, you can be in only so many meetings.
What she possesses is a showmanship that Trump can’t help appreciating. I know dozens of people who despise her politics but are mesmerized by her performances. She’s the Streep of “Fox & Friends” (of “Morning Joe,” too) and a perfect emblem of these polarized times, when no claim is too laughable or denial too ludicrous if it counters the supposed insidiousness of the other side.
She’s also the gold-haired standard for a rising generation of unflappable partisans. I imagine that Kayleigh McEnany, the Trump apologist on CNN, studies her moves the way a backup quarterback watches the starter. Should Conway go down with a broken fibula, McEnany’s ready to lead the drive.
The Trump booster Anthony Scaramucci is perhaps another of the sorceress’ apprentices. With MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle last week, he was Conway-esque in pivoting from the questions he was asked to the answers he preferred to give.
But he needs practice: I heard nothing at the altitude of Conway’s claim this week that the Democrats demanding more financial information from Trump’s nominees were “political peeping Toms.” What pith. What alliteration. What a year we’re in for.