Donald Trump’s electoral victory came as a surprise to everyone for many reasons, but chief among them was Trump’s unorthodox campaign, headed up by the duo of former Breibart head Steve Bannon and pollster Kellyanne Conway. Now that Trump has won, and has installed Bannon as a chief strategist, Conway’s role in Trump's presidency is unclear. A flap this weekend between the president-elect and his spokesperson suggests that maybe things at Trump Tower aren’t quite as hunky-dory as we might think.
The trouble began before Thanksgiving weekend, with the question of who would head up Trump’s State Department teetering between Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. According to a report from The New York Post, one witness to Trump's Turkey Day festivities said that Trump polled his Thanksgiving dinner guests about who should get the top cabinet spot. On Thanksgiving Day, Conway tweeted that she was receiving a “deluge of social media & private comms re: Romney” from Trump loyalists. As anyone who even tacitly followed the election was well aware of, Romney was an outspoken critic of Trump’s throughout his presidential campaign.
On Sunday, Conway doubled down on her criticism of Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate, saying on CNN that “I'm all for party unity, but I'm not sure we have to pay for that with the secretary of state position.”
But in classic Trump fashion, there were a few more scenes to play out. A report on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Monday morning said that the president-elect was “furious” over Conway’s Romney comments. “Conway went rogue at the worst possible time,” a source told them.
This is the first time we’ve seen such a public rift between Trump and Conway, the latter of whom resolutely and tirelessly defended some of the candidate’s worst statements and behaviors (perhaps best represented by a fantastic Saturday Night Live sketch wherein Conway, played by Kate McKinnon, has to constantly interrupt her day off to explain away Trump’s increasingly bizarre tweets).
Such friction seems almost unthinkable, considering the lengths to which Conway went to promote her candidate in the final months of the election. Brought on as campaign manager following the departure of campaign chairman Paul Manafort, Conway defended Trump amidst allegations of all manner of wrongdoing, including the “October surprise” Trump Tapes, on which Trump is heard boasting about sexually assaulting women.
With Conway’s role in the new Trump administration still up in the air, her speaking out about Romney underscores the tension built in to the new presidency between establishment moderate Republicans (like Romney) and the far-right wing which helped propel Trump to victory. It remains to be seen just how much loyalty really matters in Trump’s White House.