Now that a metaphorical house has been dropped on Sarah Huckabee Sanders, we must await the figurative bucket of water to rid us of her evil sister, Kellyanne Conway. Until then, it might be instructive to deconstruct exactly how Kellyanne does it, that is, how she stage-manages her relentless exasperation of us so utterly and infuriatingly every time she appears on TV.
Together with her “I should like to speak to the manager” hauteur, Kellyanne Conway has a small arsenal of linguistic weaponry that she employs whenever she’s in front of a microphone, beginning with what can only be described as the fast filibuster. Her just-you-try-getting-a-word-in-edgewise formula is conceived to dazzle and bewilder. It’s difficult to refute, let alone recall, fifteen lies told at speed, particularly in the scandal-fatigued context of an administration of pirate ship cartoon villainy. But that’s how Kellyanne does it, and one gets the impression that she rehearses her litany of talking points over and over prior to airtime, so she can deliver them at antagonizing high volume and fast speed.
Taken individually these talking points are lies from one end to the other. Consider Kellyanne’s appearance on Fox News. One could almost find empathy for Fox News anchor and former Democratic Party turncoat Chris Wallace, who interviewed Kellyanne on Sunday. His exasperation is in evidence from his repeatedly attempting to shoehorn in a subject-changing comment in the midst of Kellyanne’s tirade.
When Wallace asked her, “What does [Donald Trump] think about impeachment and those in the house pursuing it?” Kellyanne responded, “They need to read the Constitution to the Democratic Party. Americans, the Congress, they work for you, and they’re wasting their time and your money on impeaching a president where there are no high crimes and misdemeanors.” Now, not that anyone on Fox News would do such a thing, but it needed to be pointed out to Kellyanne that it’s that very Constitution she claims needs to be read to the Democratic Party that encodes the power of the Congress with its duty of oversight and power to impeach a president when he’s guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors. Oh, but wait, she then said that there were no high crimes and misdemeanors committed by Trump in the second part of her statement. Well, that takes care of that objection.
Another favored Kellyanne Conway technique is whataboutism. She uses it so frequently and, at times seamlessly, one would be forgiven for missing it. Continuing with the Chris Wallace interview, after dismissing the current impeachment inquiry into Trump’s crimes on spurious Constitutional grounds, Kellyanne changes the subject to the Mueller Report, a classic Conway whataboutism. She takes up the familiar Trump litany of “total exoneration” in her own way and in her own language, whatabout-ing the Mueller Report, a document she claims was a “disaster” for the Democrats. Of course, that the Mueller Report identifies ten instances of obstruction of justice and categorically does not exonerate Trump is, in Kellyanne’s alternative universe, entirely beside the point.
Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are also preferred Kellyanne whataboutisms, where she often recruits those two blameless exemplars into one of her numerous and irrational orgies of false equivalency. For example, Conway falsely claimed that Stephen Miller’s “zero tolerance policy” of separating asylum seeking parents from their children – sometimes permanently – and later repudiated by Trump but still practiced, was, according to Conway’s twisted universe, a policy begun by Obama and stopped by Trump!
One of Kellyanne’s oddest linguistic eccentricities is her persistent use of the phrase “this president” and its variants when referring to Donald Trump. In the past, the president was typically referred to as “the president,” or specifically by name as in, “President Obama.” The introduction of the indefinite article “this” is a peculiar affectation. It was also an expression commonly employed by Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I think they used it and continue to use it as a kind of distancing technique, intended to ascribe gravitas and dignity to a man who has utterly lost both. Calling him “President Trump” is simply too unbearably reminiscent of Donald Trump, a man who is a decades-long joke in the minds of most rational people. “This” might also be used to differentiate him from other people who have occupied the office of the presidency, a differentiating distinction I cannot entirely disagree with.
Finally there is the question of Kellyanne’s most peculiar marriage to George Conway, and the various theories surrounding it. Do not imagine for one minute that Kellyanne and George are unaware of the very public mystery that is their marriage. Not only are they aware of it – and here I am venturing into speculation – I cannot help but wonder if they glory in it. After all, we know that before Trump hired her, Kellyanne used to frequently and publicly speak out against Trump. Do Kellyanne and George Conway have a good laugh over dinner every night at our expense? Does he help her write her pro-Trump talking points, and does she help him write his anti-Trump tweets? Who knows? So Kellyanne might be playing to an audience of two instead of one, yin to George’s yang – in this twisted Trump universe, just about anything is possible.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.