SAN DIEGO – I never thought that I’d be defending Kellyanne Conway.
The spokeswoman and senior adviser for President-elect Donald Trump deserves much of the credit – or, from my vantage point, the blame – for saving the floundering Trump campaign and helping elect one of the most dangerous persons to ever serve as president.
Besides, Conway and I are not exactly pals. During the Republican primary, when she was working for a Super PAC supporting Ted Cruz, we had a testy exchange on Fox News when I accused Cruz – who does happen to be a friend – of not being truthful in discussing the Senate immigration bill.
Yet someone has to defend Conway against an onslaught of unfair media criticism working hand-in-hand with a whisper campaign by Trump’s boys club of senior advisers.
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What put Conway in the crosshairs is that she went public – on twitter and television – with her opposition to the idea that Trump could name Mitt Romney, one of his harshest critics, as secretary of state. She hinted that Romney would be disloyal and that, if installed at Foggy Bottom, he could create a government within a government. She also said that Trump’s most fervent supporters, who were with him from the start, would feel “betrayed” by the choice.
It was reported on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Trump is “furious” at Conway for speaking out of school. Top advisers around the president-elect now say that Conway has gone “rogue” because she didn’t get the right job offer from Trump.
Conway blasted the “Morning Joe” report – and adjoining commentary by a nearly all-male panel – as “false” and “sexist.”
Trump owes Romney nothing, but he owes Conway quite a bit. He trusted her counsel and instincts for several months, and it paid off. And now, all of a sudden, when it comes to Romney, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about?
Also, after living through four years of Hillary Clinton serving as secretary of state under President Obama, can we really dismiss the possibility of a former critic who goes on to pursue interests that are separate and apart from those of the administration?
Clinton disobeyed orders from White House officials not to conduct official business on a private email server. She ignored an admonition from Obama to keep her distance from former Clinton administration aide Sidney Blumenthal, whom Vanity Fair described as “a sort of 24-7 mini-mart of ideas for 1 / 8Hillary 3 / 8 Clinton.” And she went public in her 2014 book, “Hard Choices” about her disagreements with Obama over everything from the rise of the Islamic State and troop levels in Afghanistan to the president’s overly optimistic stance toward the Arab Spring and his failure early on to arm the rebels in Syria.
So Conway isn’t out in left field in saying that loyalty matters when a president is choosing America’s top diplomat. And she’s right to question whether Romney will follow Trump’s agenda and not advance his own.
Even so, all this assumes that things are really how they appear. Trump is so gifted at manipulating the media that we can never tell. It could be that, instead of an internal civil war within Camp Trump, what we’re really seeing is a carefully orchestrated theatrical performance directed by Trump himself.
Because we can’t be sure what’s really going on, let me pivot and defend something much bigger than Conway – namely, the idea that there should be more nuance in our discourse. Americans have lost the ability to speak to one another. We’re constantly jumping to conclusions about each other’s motives, and trying to stick one another in an ideological box.
For instance, one is not supposed to be able to defend Conway for raising questions about Romney, and still think that Romney would be a fine choice for secretary of state.
Not so. For a president-elect, some of whose picks have been fastballs, choosing Romney would be the ultimate curveball. It would show that Trump is secure enough to bring critics onto his team, and that he values a calming influence.
Sure, Conway’s public comments were unorthodox. But what part of the Trump campaign, or the transition, has been orthodox? This is how they play their reindeer games over at Trump Tower.
In the end, the country would be well served if Trump listened carefully to Conway’s concerns and then – despite them, nominated Mitt Romney to serve as secretary of state.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.