If you’re a politician who regularly gets into trouble, and you’re afraid to face the media, you’re going to need a skilled PR flack who can go to the public and regularly spin your worst moments into something less than damaging. Donald Trump has blown through a number of people in that role during his fairly brief time in politics, before finally setting on Kellyanne Conway, whose talent for lying and spinning has seemed remarkable. But after three strikes against her in a row, and Trump’s proclivity for a quick trigger, Conway could be on her way out.
BEGINNING OF TROUBLE
The trouble began when Kellyanne Conway agreed to an interview with MSNBC host Rachel Maddow two weeks ago. Maddow spent the interview being cordial and even complimentary, but cheerfully delivered one dagger after another. For the first time, a television host was calling out Conway on her indirectness and rapid subject-changing, and it left her looking incompetent. At the time it seemed like it might have been a one-off flub. After all, Maddow is one of the best at what she does, and even a skilled flack like Conway is bound to have an off day.
But since that time, Kellyanne Conway seems to have been increasingly be off her game, offering spin that was less and less nominal. These things can be hard to quantify at times. But sure enough, the beginning of the end for her seemed to come last Sunday when Meet the Press decided it only wanted to use one minute of the ten minute interview it had conducted with her. No official reason given, but NBC seemed to have lost interest in giving airtime to someone to had begun doing such a weak job of representing her boss. It was her second strike.
But Wednesday its was shaping up to be the third strike. Kellyanne was all but laughed of CNN when she backed herself into such a corner that she ended up criticizing Americans for listening to “what’s come out of his mouth,” unwittingly suggesting Trump shouldn’t be believed. That turned her into such a national punchline that her name has been trending atop Twitter ever since. She’s since tried to change the narrative about her by announcing that Trump may roll back sanctions against Russia, but that’s only led to snickering across social media about why she’s suddenly trying to write Trump’s policy for him.
What’s key here is that we’ve seen this before. There was a time during the campaign when Donald Trump was sending Katrina Pierson onto television to clean up his messes every time he said or did something that needed cleaned up. For awhile she was effective in terms of changing the narrative. But at some point she began backing herself into corners and became a laughingstock. Trump tried benching her in favor of Boris Epshteyn, but he was embarrassing out of the gate and that experiment didn’t last long before he settled on Conway.
The upshot is that trying to rebound questions about the behavior of someone as erratic and dishonest as Donald Trump tends to burn people out, mainly when they have to go on TV and do it in real time. And when one PR flack is cooked, Trump tends to just find someone new to deflect his bullshit. Kellyanne Conway has now had three strikes, two of them in the past two days, and she’s likely on her way out as the face of the campaign. To give you an idea of how seriously the sharks are circling, Maddow has now circled back and called Conway a “puppet” – and this was the same day that Maddow’s NBC colleagues at Meet the Press reportedly made the decision to cut 90% of the Conway interview. TV news people seem to have collectively decided she’s finished.
WON’T BE FIRED
That doesn’t mean she’ll be fired. For instance, Katrina Pierson and Boris Epshteyn are both still part of Donald Trump’s team. But you don’t see them on television in the way that you used to. At some point they have to be pulled back because they’ve slipped from their ability to deflect on Trump’s behalf, and they’ve become the story. Don’t be shocked if Trump begins trying out new people in the primary deflection role soon. Sean Spicer is currently up to bat.