Kellyanne Conway, who managed Donald Trump’s successful campaign for the presidency, made an appearance in Washington Wednesday and complained that the President-elect is not being treated with the respect typically afforded to incoming presidents, as she faced questioning she described as “mean.”
In her appearance at the American Democracy Conference, sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, Conway seemed genuinely annoyed that Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign, and revelations about his serial mistreatment of women, were still an issue for some people. Several times, she fell back on the Trump’s election night promise to be a president for “all Americans” as though it erased 18 months of veiled swipes at minorities and ugly accusations of sexual assault.
One young woman stepped up to ask a question, and noted that Conway is both the founder of a successful polling company and the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign. She demanded to know how, as a woman, Conway could “rationalize” her support for Trump who has been accused by more than a dozen women of sexual assault and who was caught on tape explicitly describing how he had assaulted women in the past.
The question was met with a round of applause from the audience, prompting an awkward moment in which Center for Politics director Larry Sabato offered Conway an opportunity to skip the question. Instead, she began her answer by criticizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for not winning an even larger majority of the female vote in the election than she did.
She then rebuked the questioner for “trying to be personally mean” and said that to focus on Trump’s history of mistreating women would not bring back lost jobs or open closed factories.
Notably, Conway did not offer much in the way of comfort to voters who were appalled by the revelations about Trump’s personal behavior, telling the questioner, “For you to use sexual assault to try to make news here, I think, is unfortunate, but it also doesn’t matter, because Donald Trump promised he’ll be the president of all Americans.”
Another attendee asked how Trump could lead the country when he had alienated many different groups of Americans with incendiary comments made during the campaign.
Conway reiterated that Trump has promised to be president for all Americans, and after pausing briefly and muttering “Wow!” she was again offered the chance to skip the question.
“No, that’s fine,” she said. “It’s America.”
She then went on to suggest that more Americans had voted for Trump than Clinton “based on the electoral college breakdown.” It was unclear what she meant by that, because there is no real dispute over the fact that Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2 million ballots.
Turning to the issue of Trump’s acceptance by those who didn’t vote for him, she said, “I grew up in a Democratic household and we were always taught to respect the flag, to respect the office of the presidency and its occupant, and it just seems like that is not a foregone conclusion right now everywhere in this country.”
She did not note that Trump’s entire political brand was established with a high-profile campaign predicated on disrespecting President Barack Obama by insisting that he was illegitimately elected.
She also said that one of the primary drivers of Trump’s election was his honesty, saying that she would be happy to look her four children in the eye and tell them, “I would not vote for somebody who I did not think was telling the truth.”
She did not note that during his presidential campaign, and indeed, since, Trump has shown himself to be a virtual fountain of falsehood, consistently repeating claims and accusations that are demonstrably untrue.
In the wake of the election, she said, Trump has been “incredibly gracious” and “incredibly magnanimous” to the Clinton and Obama families, and said, “I think it’s time that others show him and show the vice president-elect at least the respect that the office of the presidency deserves in a thriving democracy.”
However, it appears that at least some voters are prepared to show president-elect Trump only as much respect as candidate Trump showed them.