Her abrupt transformation into one of the president’s most ardent acolytes —who just left her paid contributor’s perch at CNN to start a new job this week as the top talking head for the Republican National Committee—begs the question: Did she have a genuine conversion experience, akin to Saul’s vision of the resurrected Christ on the road to Damascus?
Or did McEnany, one of Trump’s more prominent propagandists on TV and radio, simply see her opportunities and took ’em (to quote corrupt Tammany Hall politician George Washington Plunkitt), as befits an ambitious, telegenic blonde eager for TV stardom?
It’s a piquant irony, especially now that along with her RNC duties she’s anchoring a propaganda webcast produced at Trump Tower that purports to present “real news” instead of the negative reports about White House chaos and intrigue regularly carried by the mainstream media. Maybe in politics time it was an eon ago that McEnany was taking shots at her current hero, but in normal human time it was fairly recently.
“We’re not going to ship people across the border—that’s not the American way. There has to be some path to citizenship,” McEnany told CNN’s Don Lemon on June 29, 2015, in the midst of slamming then-candidate Trump’s anti-Mexican immigrant announcement speech.
“Donald Trump has shown himself to be a showman. I don’t think he’s a serious candidate,” she continued, adding that the former reality television star was “a sideshow” who “says outrageous things” and “was not consistent with mainstream Republicans” like her preferred presidential prospect, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
“I’m here to tell you,” McEnany said, by way of dismissing the man who now occupies the White House, “he’s not going to be anywhere near the top five. He’s not a serious contender within the Republican Party. And I think he made that pretty clear when the most important thing he said in his speech was, ‘I am rich, I am rich,’ repeatedly.”
The 29-year-old McEnany, the daughter of a well-to-do Tampa, Florida, roofing and construction contractor and Republican donor, was not alone, obviously, in ridiculing Trump’s claims to legitimacy.
But her metamorphosis from Trump detractor into one of the tabloid-ready billionaire’s more rabid defenders mere months after trashing him during the 2016 campaign, when she joined CNN’s roster, is notable for its whiplash-inducing velocity.
Despite a warm welcome from RNC Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel—who, in a press release Monday, praised McEnany’s “wealth of experience” that will make her “an integral part of our Party’s ongoing commitment to promoting the Republican message to Americans across the country”—her appointment is being greeted with more than a little skepticism among rank-and-file GOP operatives.
“It’s a somewhat curious pick,” said an experienced and well-connected Republican strategist, who added, “I’m not in the hater club, but I’m not really a fan,” and asked not to be further identified so as not to antagonize the party leadership. “I think, in particular, you have someone who’s so credible in [White House press secretary] Sarah Sanders, but then juxtaposed to someone who has largely made her reputation on not being particularly credible. It creates a rather odd dynamic.”
Yet McEnany—who as a Georgetown University undergrad was an intern in George W. Bush’s White House, but has negligible political experience—could not have been hired for such a high-profile position without the approval of President Trump “or at least people high up in the Trump orbit,” this person said.
According to sources, Trump, who watches cable news obsessively, had been initially dissatisfied with McEnany’s on-air defense of his presidency, but apparently grew more comfortable with her over time as she became, by some accounts, increasingly strident.
The Republican strategist added: “She’s pretty close to Trump’s daughter-in-law [Eric Trump’s wife] Lara,” a former Inside Edition producer who is spearheading the digital video operation out of Trump Tower, an early effort of the president’s 2020 reelection campaign, and recruited McEnany to anchor so-called “Real News” social media videos that are designed to look like newscasts while lavishing accolades on the achievements of the Trump White House.
The videos have been widely derided in the mainstream media. CNN’s Jake Tapper likened them to “Orwellian nomenclature.”
On his NBC talk show Monday, late-night comic Seth Meyers ran a clip of McEnany touting “more great economic news” that “President Trump has clearly steered the economy back in the right direction… I’m Kayleigh McEnany and that is the real news.”
“God, that was like state news crossed with a school announcement!” Meyers quipped. “‘It’s Pizza Day in the cafeteria! But you won’t hear that from the failing New York Times!’”
Longtime Republican campaign operative Rick Tyler told The Daily Beast: “I don’t think Pyongyang-style happy talk TV is going to solve their messaging problems.”
McEnany didn’t respond to Facebook and Twitter messages from The Daily Beast, and the RNC didn’t make her available for an interview. She has, instead, been visiting friendly venues such as Breitbart News’ SiriusXM radio show, Fox News Radio, and the Christian Broadcasting Network.
“For me, I have wanted to go to the RNC because I wanted to be a part of this fight” and promote Trump’s “great policies,” she told CBN White House correspondent David Brody. “I was on the outside of it, commentating on it, and I wanted to come in, look my children in the eye and say I was part of this movement.” (McEnany, who is engaged to St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Sean Gilmartin, has said she wants to have four children before the age of 35, when she plans to have her ovaries removed.)
In an interview four years ago with the Hallmark Channel, she explained that the future surgery is a precautionary measure, along with a planned double mastectomy, due to a family history of breast cancer caused by the BRCAII gene that makes contracting the disease almost inevitable.
“In terms of the message of the RNC,” she said on CBN, “our message is: Get behind President Trump.”
The picture that emerges from conversations with veteran Republican operatives and various debating partners from CNN and elsewhere suggests a bright and impressively credentialed young woman (a recent graduate of Harvard Law School after her first year at the University of Miami) who worked assiduously to win the confidence of the president’s inner circle even while alienating fellow Republicans and wearing out her welcome at CNN.
Indeed, by the time McEnany announced her departure this past weekend from Trump’s least favorite cable news outlet, she’d been excluded from CNN’s prime-time programming for the better part of a month.
According to sources at the network, Anderson Cooper and Don Lemon, along with their producers, had grown weary of her unwillingness to utter a single word criticizing the president, her increasingly tortured and tendentious arguments in defense of Trump’s every action, and her tendency to personally attack and demonize on-air panelists with whom she disagreed.
She was especially adept at pushing their buttons.
In one notorious on-air fracas, New York Times columnist Charles Blow objected vehemently when McEnany put her hand on his arm while smiling sweetly and saying, “I think some of my left-wing counterparts are very unfair to Trump… They insert sinister suspicion where it does not belong…”
“The fact that you touched me before you said that is wrong,” Blow erupted. “Don’t touch me and then launch into your ‘sinister motivation’ diatribe. It’s not gonna happen tonight, ma’am.”
“I did not realize that there’s a one-inch barrier where I’m not allowed to get close to you, Charles Blow. But now I know so I’ll scoot over this way a tad bit… We’re all Americans. Maybe you don’t feel that way. We have one president. We should all want him to succeed. And we should all be friends at the end of the day and hug it out, and if you don’t want to do that you don’t have to do that.”
“That’s a very personal attack… to say maybe I don’t believe that I’m an American,” Blow fumed. “Don’t do that.”
“I want to apologize to you for being a millennial,” she told Navarro. “I know millennials aren’t allowed to have opinions in this day and age.”
“Let me play my old, ancient Stradivarius for you,” Navarro retorted, making sawing motions with an imaginary violin bow.
“This panel has descended into very vitriolic, ad hominem attacks when statistics are brought up, when the numbers are brought up, when you don’t have facts to retort to my facts,” McEnany complained.
In yet another notable face-off, McEnany patronized former Ted Cruz campaign strategist Amanda Carpenter, who had written a column criticizing Ivanka Trump for taking a formal White House job for which she was unqualified and seeking a security clearance to view classified material for which she had no expertise.
“Amanda, I know you’re very upset by this,” McEnany said with a smirk.
“Don’t talk down to me, Kayleigh,” Carpenter shot back.
“You are doing more harm to the cause of feminism by tearing down another woman ruthlessly who took a job that you feel she isn’t qualified for,” McEnany went on. “I just really think we should try to respect other women, building up other women, and not tear them down because we’re envious of what they have.”
“If Kayleigh wants to do this catfight and say I’m envious and jealous, that’s her prerogative… Kayleigh, you’re making this way too personal.”
Carpenter declined to comment, and Navarro said she had “zero interest” in discussing McEnany.
“Kayleigh was obnoxious and came from zero political experience, telling people with real resumes and real experience that we weren’t conservative and what it meant to be a Republican,” said an occasional on-air opponent. “But she brought drama and Jeff Zucker [the president of CNN Worldwide] liked the drama and he liked the ratings.”
Eventually, however, CNN began using “less insane and more experienced Republicans supporting Trump, and she became less valuable,” this person said.
Another of McEnany’s on-air opponents told The Daily Beast: “She always struck me as a really bright, sweet girl—really conservative but pretty straightforward kind of person. But suddenly she had turned into this person that said all this crazy stuff. It seemed like the Trump campaign was putting the screws to her, and she was suddenly going after people’s character. It wasn’t just having a disagreement. If people were saying things critical of Trump, it was a ‘bad people,’ ‘you hate America’ kind of thing.”
McEnany, of course, was not the only CNN Trumpkin who has infuriated on-air colleagues.
According to an informed source, Don Lemon begged off booking Jeffrey Lord on his program after he weirdly likened the president to Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights martyr Martin Luther King Jr., and continued to insist on the invidious comparison over the indignant objections of African-American contributors Symone Sanders and Bakari Sellers.
When Lord tried to tout his civil rights bona fides by recounting an incident from his childhood in the South, Lemon shouted at him: “I don’t want to hear about stuff from 50 goddamn years ago!... Goodnight! We’re done!”
Lord, however, remains happily ensconced at CNN.