Kellyanne Conway has been front-and-center as the face of the Trump administration on the Sunday shows and the primetime news circuits alike. How much of an influence did Conway have in Trump’s election victory, and will this influence continue into the administration?
As a recently-appointed counselor to the president and the highest ranking woman in the incoming administration, Conway has been the public face of the Trump campaign and administration since she was named his campaign manager in August 2016.
Her prominence in the media sphere has been noted, and poked fun at. In a Saturday Night Live sketch titled “A Day Off,” Kate McKinnon (also known for portraying Hillary Clinton) portrays a haggard Kellyanne Conway who is forced to explain away all of Trump’s mistakes in TV interviews.
While SNL may speak to some truths about Conway’s role in the Trump campaign and transition from a media perspective, the political nuances of her position within the administration are glossed over.
“I think SNL certainly has some latitude in its depiction of her, but I know some in the media tend to view her in a similar way,” said Aaron Blake, senior political reporter for Washington Post blog The Fix. “I think that oversimplifies things and is a little dismissive. She clearly knows what she’s doing politically, and to suggest she was just there to keep him in line misses the point.”
After being named campaign manager, Conway became a bit of a media darling. She is frequently spoofed on SNL and she has done hundreds of interviews on platforms ranging from MSNBC to Fox to Seth Meyers’ Late Night.
This strategy has been helpful to expand her viewership and Trump’s message, primarily because people who don’t watch Fox are more likely to watch another outlet, like MSNBC, etc.
“Her willingness to go on shows like Seth Meyers’s and Rachel Maddow’s shows she’s pretty open and willing to engage with people she disagrees with,” Blake said. “I think that’s to be commended. We need more of that.”
Blake believes Conway deserves some credit for Trump’s win on election night.
“The operation was even rockier before she took over, and she seemed to have a way of dealing with Trump that nobody before her had mastered,” Blake told Mediafile.
Conway shows her influence most when she is repositioning Trump’s quotes. After Meryl Streep used her lifetime award acceptance speech at the Golden Globes to describe the “one performance this year that stunned [her],” as when President-elect Donald Trump imitated a disabled reporter during a rally in 2015, Kellyanne shot back – asking the public to look into the President-Elect’s heart.
“‘You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart,” Conway said, “You always want to go with what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.’”
This statement came after the President-elect denied that he had mocked the reporter.
Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2017
This situation seems to be a representation of her media strategy that SNL picked up on: reframe what Trump says, or deny what he said was inappropriate.
“Of all his spokespeople, she was probably the most adept at spinning the message and avoiding actually answering questions from the media about the conflicts of interest that are now taking center stage,” The Daily Beast contributor Matt Wilstein told MediaFile.
Where the average candidate would go on late night shows and other interviews and speak for himself, Conway is able to do that for him – an area that, many would say, is more her strong suit than his.
She matches Trump’s weakness with her strength. Her power comes from making his message sound more palatable to party opposition, tough questioning, and the all-important political middle.
Her “spin-doctor” abilities, according to some, and frequency in on-air appearances has allowed her to reposition, or further explain, Trump’s sound bites and helped him build a larger following.
As we enter the new administration, the question remains: Can Kellyanne Conway continue to use the media to her advantage?