Kellyanne Conway is the latest victim of a familiar cautionary tale: Trump corrupts.
Once seen as a respected, if crafty, conservative communicator, the former Cruz booster joined the winning side (or is it the Dark Side?)—and was rewarded with a plum role of campaign manager.
For a time, she adeptly handled tough questions with a combination of charm and sharp elbows. She seemed to calm things down a bit, which no doubt helped Trump win. Seriously, she came along at a time when she was desperately needed, and really seemed to help Trump right his ship and settle down. As columnist Kathleen Parker observed last August, “…Trump hired a woman… to become his new campaign manager. And: He suddenly started being nice. Call it a woman’s touch or a faltering candidate’s desperation, but Trump was even kind of cute Thursday when he expressed regret for his ill-chosen words during the campaign…”
Today, it appears she has morphed into Katrina Pierson, the erstwhile Trump spokesperson whose attempts to defend the indefensible were generally mocked and derided. Kellyanne is seen as someone who is either a liar or—maybe worse in Washington—simply out of the loop. Morning Joe has decided it’s no longer worth having her on as a guest.
Like Conway, Vice President Mike Pence was once seen as someone who could soften Trump’s rough edges and serve as a bridge to both movement conservatives and mainstream journalists. And just like Conway, it is now clear that Pence is out of the loop. On two separate occasions now (regarding Flynn’s calls to Russia during the transition and during the campaign), Pence has gone on TV and told a mistruth.
Speaking of the lies told to Pence, we probably can’t entirely blame the fall of Mike Flynn on Trump; some of it was, no doubt, brought on by his anger at President Obama for forcing him out as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Still, Flynn’s transformation from respected high-ranking military official to a peddler of conspiracy theories to a disgraced shortest-serving National Security Advisor in American history is a pretty stunning reputational collapse.
The good news for Pence is that it seems more likely that Flynn and Trump simply kept him out of the loop than that he knowingly lied. This, I think, provides Pence with the plausible deniability that could serve him well if Trump were ever ousted. Still, it is not a good look. And it does seem to remove one of the primary functions that Pence provides to Trump’s administration—to serve as a trustworthy and credible source who can vouch for the accuracy of what really happened. The next time he goes on TV and says that something did or did not happen, why should anybody believe him?
Those who are higher up tend to have a steeper fall. For young operatives who legitimately shared Trump’s nationalistic worldview from the beginning, they have less to lose. Sure, Stephen Miller came across horribly on the Sunday morning shows. But in what other scenario was Stephen Miller ever going to be an advisor to a U.S. president? Sure, Corey Lewandowski got fired. But give me another scenario where he would have become this famous—or had the chance to manage a serious presidential campaign.
White House Press Secretary and Communications Director Sean Spicer—a Republican communications guru and strategist—has now lost the trust of the press corps and is being played by a (gasp!) woman on Saturday Night Live.
But it’s not just aides and operatives who have beclowned themselves. Some of my colleagues in conservative media have fallen prey to the temptation. If Trump crashes, their credibility may not recover.
Trump tempts, but is it worth it? David Brooks described it as a Faustian bargain recently, but I have to admit that his description appears more accurate today than it did even a few weeks ago.
Trump might still accomplish some good things, but he has always lacked the temperament and character to be a respected president.
The people who hitched their star to his wagon might end up permanently tarnished. Trump will probably be fine, no matter what happens.
But where does Kellyanne go to retrieve her reputation?