Kellyanne Conway would like to make a few things crystal clear and set the record straight:
President-elect Donald Trump’s former campaign manager isn’t angry at him because he hasn’t offered her a job in the White House; quite the contrary, she says, they’ve discussed a number of senior positions.
She doesn’t hate Mitt Romney, even though she has spent the past four days, including during three Washington Sunday show appearances, passionately enumerating all the reasons why Trump’s formerly harsh antagonist—the guy who conspicuously didn’t vote for Trump and attacked him as a “con man” and a “fake”—would be an unsuitable choice for secretary of state.
And—despite the claims of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski on Monday’s installment of Morning Joe—the future president isn’t “furious” at her for allegedly “going rogue” to “box in” her boss and prevent him from picking the former Massachusetts governor for his most important Cabinet post.
“Of course not,” Conway told The Daily Beast Monday afternoon, capping endless hours of intrigue and speculation concerning her Twitter and television jihad against Romney after he met with Trump last week at the president-elect’s request, reportedly to discuss the possibility of joining the administration. (Indeed, Romney is reportedly getting a second meeting with Trump Tuesday to discuss running the State department.)
“He [Trump] was not” furious, Conway insisted, adding that she spent time with the boss on Monday in Trump Tower and saying, not for the first time, that she would support whoever Trump finally picks. “I was with him…I spoke with him this morning and all through the weekend he talked to me. I love and respect him very much. I know he’ll be a great president.”
Conway chided Scarborough and Brzezinski in a text message while they were on the air, claiming they were being “sexist” for suggesting she was “mad and emotional,” and thus causing trouble for Trump, because she didn’t receive a White House job offer.
Untrue, in any case, Conway told The Daily Beast.
A few hours earlier, Conway told The Daily Beast in a text message: “I am busy with the boss. Who is not furious!…He offered me a job on election night etc. I just don’t play it up”—never mind that she trumpeted such a job offer on Nov. 10, knocking down a report that she was reluctant to leave her lucrative polling business for a government salary: “False. Could it be those ‘sources’ want the WH job I’ve been offered?”
Conway’s conduct has inspired shock and awe in official Washington and beyond. David Axelrod, a former top White House aide to President Obama, mused on Twitter: “I have never, EVER, seen any aide to a POTUS or PEOTUS publicly try and box the boss in like this. Extraordinary.”
Axelrod, a CNN analyst and director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, added: “I wonder if @realDonaldTrump appreciates being manipulated in public like this?”
In a subsequent tweet, Axelrod echoed the speculation of knowledgeable journalists such as Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg and MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes: “This is the alternative theory: @KellyannePolls was ASSIGNED the role of trashing @MittRomney. Otherwise, it’s an unbelievable breach.”
In a phone interview later on Monday, Conway claimed that all the inside-the Beltway theorizing about her actions and motives for rubbishing Romney—and whether she had Trump’s authorization to do so, as a diabolical form of payback—misses the mark.
“You’re reading too much into this,” she said. “First of all, I would never say anything publicly that I haven’t said to him [Trump] privately. If you’re trying to make the point that oh, did I go rogue?, or did he put me up to it?, it seems to me that all the talk is missing a more obvious point: Let’s just say I don’t communicate with him through the television. I communicate with him directly, and I’ve taken many arrows to try to act as a shield and as a sword, when appropriate, on his behalf.”
So—did Trump put her up to it?
Conway, who officially joined the Trump juggernaut as an advisor in July after initially supporting Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (and taking a few potshots of her own at the eventual Republican nominee), declined to shed any light.
I’m just not commenting on that,” said Conway, who in August became Trump’s third campaign manager—after Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski were sent packing—while former Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen K. Bannon was named CEO. “It’s not a mystery. I just don’t divulge private conversations. I just don’t. I know other people do to curry favor.”
Yet, concerning her opposition to Romney, Conway confided: “I’ve expressed privately how stunning and visceral the reaction has been against this particular possibility.”
She added: “People have been portraying this as a Rudy vs. Romney cage match”—a reference to former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has been publicly campaigning for the state department job. “It’s not. It’s not to me, anyway. He [Trump] met with General Petraeus today, and he’s meeting with Senator Corker tomorrow”—meaning Bob Corker of Tennessee, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “There are other choices.”
In a statement emailed to the New York Times Monday evening by spokeswoman Hope Hicks, Trump said: “Kellyanne came to me and asked whether or not she could go public with her thoughts on the matter. I encouraged her to do so. Most importantly she fully acknowledged there is only one person that makes the decision. She has always been a tremendous asset and that will continue.”
Conway said the Romney flap started innocently enough, the day before Thanksgiving, when she tweeted a link to a Politico story in which two prominent Trump supporters, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich, were critical of a possible Romney choice because of Romney’s “disloyalty”—criticisms she agrees with.
But Conway insists she doesn’t despise the 2012 Republican standard-bearer, as claimed in a Washington Post story headlined “Why Kellyanne Conway Hates Mitt Romney.”
“I don’t hate Mitt Romney,” she said. “Let’s not flatter anybody here. I don’t hate him. I just am wondering why he gets such a [negative] reaction from the grass roots and even the donor community, and why is there the absence of such a public groundswell for Mitt Romney to be secretary of state? Where is that? It doesn’t exist.”
Conway—who an informed source said was asked by Trump to serve as White House press secretary or communications director, possible roles she hasn’t decided upon—expressed annoyance at the story’s author, Post political savant Chris Cillizza, who wrote it without contacting her.
“If you were going to write an article saying that Kellyanne Conway hates somebody, wouldn’t you call Kellyanne Conway?” she demanded. “That’s kinda weird. Has everyone lost my number?”
Cillizza responded in an email to The Daily Beast: “I spoke to a number of people in both [the Conway and Romney] camps who described her views on very frosty terms. Thanks for reaching out.”
Conway, by the way, said she might not even join the White House staff, and instead could head up an outside political organization to back Trump administration initiatives with messaging and public support—much as former Obama campaign manager David Plouffe did in the early years of the first term.
Meanwhile, Conway—the wife of blue-chip Manhattan lawyer George Conway and the mother of four children living in the gilded suburbs of New Jersey—seems to be enjoying her newfound fame as the face of the Trump transition.
The president-elect has reportedly told Conway that he loves to see her on TV and she’s a near-constant presence on cable news, and has even become a lampoonable character on Saturday Night Live—played by erstwhile Hillary Clinton impersonator Kate McKinnon.
“I thought it was hysterical,” she said about a short SNL film in October, titled “A Day Off with Kellyanne Conway,” in which the long-blonde-tressed McKinnon must keep interrupting various household and leisure activities to appear on CNN to defend Trump’s latest outrageously offensive tweets. “If you’re going to be mocked, it might as well be affectionately mocked. It was very sweet. My cousin said ‘someone must have followed you around for three days.’ ”
Conway added: “I wonder if Kate McKinnon thinks it’s more fun to play me or Hillary Clinton.”