Kellyanne Conway is a study in a certain kind of political postmodernism: she uses English in such a way to render signifiers meaningless, and her fragmentary thoughts resist narrative. Even that is perhaps a generous reading of Conway, the Donald Trump campaign manager turned Twitter/cable news power broker, but there has always been something about Conway, particularly her cable news appearances, that resists interpretation.
Since Trump announced her hiring in July, Conway quickly became the face of his campaign, pushing poor Katrina Pierson aside. Pierson’s style was more familiar, her talking points were the internal thoughts of a true believer, birthed by an egg account on Twitter and regurgitated to television hosts eager to conflate empty spectacle with some kind of meaningful discourse. But Conway offered up the political spectacle with less outrage or, perhaps, more placid grace, or at least more hints of self-awareness. Conway’s greatest skill has always been her subtle acknowledgment that the back-and-forth of punditry is largely bullshit, from winking at Anderson Cooper to responding with a “why do you care?” when pressed about the President-Elect’s tweets about Hamilton.
But it’s bullshit Conway is happy to engage with and she’s effective at delivering what, in the era of Trump, seems like reasonable responses delivered from behind perfectly coiffed hair and a broad smile. Conway was hired to fix Trump’s woman problem (remember that?), the so-called gender gap that, six months ago, seemed like inevitable doom at the polls. She downplayed allegations of sexual assault and toured every cable news program celebrating Trump as a good father and wonderful businessman. Conway simply didn’t care about Trump’s clear issues and used nearly every appearance to turn from Trump’s behavior to Hillary Clinton’s shortcomings.
There’s been a lot of hand-wringing over how and why Donald Trump won white women, attempts at explanations at the particular thought processes that led a sizable portion of American women to cast their vote for a man who leveraged his sexism as some kind of potent truth-telling. And yet, those explainers can never quite spin a cohesive narrative. In large part, because they can’t, as evidenced by Kellyanne Conway, there is no narrative, only winks and looping defenses.