The Conways have called a truce. Kellyanne, a senior adviser to President Trump, is one of his fiercest defenders. Her husband, George, a noted attorney, has become a vitriolic critic. Their increasingly public and poisonous battle has mesmerized the capital. How long could it go on?
Now we know. It couldn’t go on any longer. Kellyanne announced she’s leaving the White House, and George is withdrawing from the Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans that has been shredding the president with TV ads. Both cited family reasons, with Kellyanne noting that their four children, ranging in age from 10 to 15, would all be learning at home this fall. “For now, and for my beloved children, it will be less drama, more mama,” she said.
Now, “more mama” and more daddy are almost always good things for a family, especially one in crisis. But — and it’s a big “but” — the Conway Family Feud reveals something seriously wrong about politics in the Age of Trump. Civility and tolerance are so rare that even two conservative Republicans, who really seem to love each other, have turned into mortal enemies. Trump pollutes whatever he touches — even marriage.
As Gil Troy, a presidential historian at McGill University, told Mark Leibovich of the New York Times: “This marriage represents the train wreck that is our current political culture. We are all intertwined as Americans, like we’re all in a marriage together and constantly colliding against one another. No one knows who’s going to break first and what will be the breaking point.” Added Leibovich: “We are all the Conways.”
The Conways are often compared to another mixed political marriage: James Carville, who ran Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992, and Mary Matalin, who worked for the man Clinton defeated, George Bush 41. Sure, the couple turned their romance into a profitable shtick, churning out speeches, books and even a TV drama in which they played themselves. Still, they’ve stayed together for 27 years in part because they share a belief in politics as an honorable endeavor, and a respect for each other’s sincerity.
Carville told the Times that the Conway saga reflects how sharply the political culture has shifted since the era when he and Matalin met: “Coming of political age in 1992 is significantly different than coming of age in 2017. Trump people have much more of a sense of personal assault or grievance, and the Trump opponents have a high, high dose of doing the right thing for the country. You can hardly even tell jokes about it anymore.”
Both Conways have been fueled by that sense of assault and grievance. Early in Trump’s presidency, Kellyanne coined the phrase “alternative facts” to describe his approach to governing — a deeply dangerous idea that only the president could define reality.
George started out as a Trump fan, weeping with joy on election night, according to Kellyanne. But he grew increasingly alarmed at Trump’s erratic behavior, questioning the president’s mental stability and deciding that his wife and other Trumpsters were being “brainwashed by a cult,” reports the Times.
Their rising hostility was whipped into a full-blown firestorm by the winds of social media, which rewards bad behavior and nasty putdowns with greater audiences and attention. Here’s just one of George’s tweets aimed at the president: “Congratulations! You just guaranteed that millions of more people are going to learn about narcissistic personality disorder and malignant narcissism! Great job.”
The president, no amateur at digital destruction, jumped in gleefully, tweeting that George is “a stone-cold LOSER & husband from hell” who is “VERY jealous of his wife’s success.”
There’s more. The Conways’ 15-year-old daughter Claudia is a star on TikTok, proclaiming herself to be a “radical agnostic liberal/leftist” who supports Black Lives Matter and wants to be “emancipated” from her parents. Those parents tried, briefly and futilely, to ban her from social media last month, but she quickly returned to endorse a face mask reading, “CLAUDIA CONWAY IS A BAD BITCH.” When her parents announced their retreat from public life, she boasted on TikTok, “Look what I did!”
Carville and Matalin never had to contend with social media kill shots — from their children, their bosses or each other. Moreover, they moved from Washington to New Orleans in 2008, where they found common ground helping to rebuild the city and teaching at local universities.
If the Conways want to stay sane, and stay married, they should abandon Twitter and TikTok. And maybe look for a house in New Orleans.
Steven Roberts can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.