At the Conways’, it’s a house divided. Kellyanne Conway is Trump’s loyal adviser; her husband, George Conway, is one of the president’s most notable conservative critics and wishes he had never introduced his wife to Trump in the first place.
Like the rest of the country, the couple has been jolted by the Trump presidency. They love each other, are exasperated by each other, talk about each other behind each other’s backs. They share a roof and live in different bunkers.
This may be the story of any marriage — partners can drive each other crazy and still stay together for 50 years — but this marriage is, in many ways, emblematic of our national political predicament, particularly on the right.
And their feud, thanks to George’s newfound Twitter hobby, is playing out for more than just the neighbors to see.
Kellyanne remembers how encouraging George was of her independence when they got married 17 years ago. Back then, Kellyanne was just finding her footing as a sought-after pollster in Washington. She remembers one of George’s friends telling him that the best thing for their marriage would be for her to shut down her business — the company she built from scratch — and how George, even though he made enough money himself to support the family, encouraged her to keep working toward her own dream.
Shortly after they were married in 2001, Kellyanne and George moved into an apartment in Manhattan’s Trump World Tower. There, George made an impression on the future president at a condo board meeting where he argued against removing Trump’s name from the building. The speech earned George an offer to join the condo board, which he declined but passed on to his wife, who accepted.
“Knowing what I know now,” George said later, back in Washington, “I would have said no, and never mentioned it when I got home.”
Nevertheless, George liked Trump well enough for a time that he considered joining his administration with a top role in the Justice Department. But his pre-nomination process coincided with Trump firing FBI Director James B. Comey and the beginning of the Mueller investigation. Friends of George told me he decided he did not want to be part of a department that would constantly be at odds with the president.
Instead, George immersed himself in the small fraternity of anti-Trump conservatives. He is now a man without a party: In early March of this year, George changed his affiliation from Republican to “unaffiliated.” He has, according to Politico, offered unsolicited advice to journalists who have written articles critical of the president. And recently, he has been spotted at a semi-secret group of Trump skeptics known as the Meeting of the Concerned, eviscerating his wife’s boss among fellow conservatives who would like to see Trump, and by extension Kellyanne, out of a job.
If he’s being honest, that would make George happy, too.
When the president was in search of a new communications director last year, George tweeted it was “absurd" that the president so often says one thing and then does the opposite. In addition to various tweets about corgis and the Philadelphia Eagles, he has retweeted dozens of articles critical of the president and his administration, and he penned a 3,473-word essay rebutting Trump’s assertion that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation was “unconstitutional.”
Because George is married to Kellyanne, the chief architect and top saleswoman for Trumpism, and because his dissent seemed to come out of nowhere, George went viral. His retweets were themselves retweeted and topped with bug-eyed emoji. His follower count soared to more than 90,000, and the left adopted this conservative super lawyer as an honorary member of the resistance.
There’s a theory among D.C. Trumpologists that this is all a charade. A way for the Conways to be part of both the Trump White House and the Trump-leery establishment. They live in a part of the city where wealth and influence serve as a cooling balm for the partisan inflammation that has spread elsewhere. In their neighborhood, everybody — Democrat and Republican — belongs to the garden party.
Back before she was the president’s wingwoman — a gut check for his political agenda and messaging — Kellyanne worked for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) during the 2016 campaign. Then, she called on Trump to release his tax returns and called him “vulgar” and “unpresidential.”
Now she’s bound to Trump, both on and off camera. She speaks with the president daily, offering advice both on policy and messaging. She hits the road in her “personal” capacity to stump for candidates and spread the gospel of Trump. She is helping run the administration’s war on opioids, works to maintain relationships with Republicans on the Hill and is one of the only threads from the White House that goes all the way back to the campaign. For a president who fears betrayal, that’s worth a lot.
“I think he looks at her as part of the family,” said Jim McLaughlin, a Republican pollster who knows both the president and Kellyanne.
In Washington, changes in allegiance are nothing new, nor is the art of redirecting any criticism that might follow. Trump loyalists have not changed the fundamental rules of the city — the weapon of shame remains most powerful in the hands of the shameless — but they have redefined the boundaries of play. Some people seem uncomfortable with that, but not Kellyanne.
Kellyanne talks, about any and everything: issues with her father (he left when she was 3), feminists (the funny thing, she says, is she’s living the life they claim to want), or her thoughts on the administration’s practice, since reversed, of having federal agents separate migrant families at the border. (She didn’t like it, she says, but that wasn’t the president’s fault.)
It’s never his fault. Kellyanne prides herself as someone willing to “go into any den, and talk about any subject,” and often the subject is her boss, our president — whether he deserves the latest volley of outrage from the left, the center, and occasionally the home office just off her living room. She goes on CNN and takes the fight to the journalists Trump calls the enemy. If the president throws playground punches at the news media, the Justice Department, his fellow Republicans, she’ll find a way to explain that he was the one being bullied. She’ll do it with the ferocity of a mother — or a daughter.
It can be a spectacle. Fans call her courageous; critics call her shameless; TV bookers just call her.
And what about loyalty to her family?
“I feel there’s a part of him that thinks I chose Donald Trump over him,” Kellyanne says, talking about George. “Which is ridiculous. One is my work and one is my marriage.”
Naturally, though, the two things overlap. When George criticizes the president publicly, Kellyanne says, the media coverage and the implication that they are pitted against each other bothers their children. And as for the president himself, Kellyanne won’t say it irks him, but she does think he finds it “impolite.” On that, she’d agree.
Kellyanne is an independent woman, an independent woman stuck between two men who could blow up her day with a tweet.
“Nobody knows who I am because of my husband,” she says. “People know of my husband because of me.”
His wife may find his gestures of resistance disrespectful of her, but George disagrees. He can redirect criticism as deftly as she can. “Her problem is with her boss,” he says, “not me.”
“If my wife were the counselor to the CEO of Pepsi and I had a problem with her boss, I would simply drink my Coke and keep my mouth shut,” he says. “If the president were simply mediocre or even bad, I’d have nothing to say. This is much different.”
George is clearly worried about Kellyanne and her reputation, just as Kellyanne said she is worried about George’s. But that doesn’t mean everything has changed. He’s still proud of what she’s been able to accomplish, he says. And when he looks at a picture from election night, he’s still reminded of the sheer elation he felt.
“I’m just saddened by how things turned out,” he says.
One afternoon, George is in the kitchen with his wife by his side. Their four kids (Claudia and George Jr., 13-year-old twins; Charlotte, 10; Vanessa, 8) are running around with their friends before the family takes a trip to the water park. Kellyanne has left her work phone in another room, and so has George. She’s more than her job, she says; he’s more than his tweets.
Tomorrow their house will be set up for “Face the Nation,” after which Kellyanne will be swarmed on the street by fans while George watches the second half of the show — the part where pundits analyze his wife’s interview — alone in the kitchen. But for now, things feel almost like they used to be. This is what George misses at times, his simpler life.
He starts to open up about his tweets. Kellyanne is cutting vegetables 10 feet away with a longtime friend. The women start singing “The Glory of Love,” a central song in the weepy movie “Beaches.”
“It’s an outlet, that keeps it a small part of my life,” George says of his tweeting.
You’ve got to win a little, lose a little, yes, and always have the blues a little.
You’ve got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little.
“I think I’m actually holding back a little,” he says. “I think the reason why is obvious.”
Kellyanne is now singing loudly into a cucumber, completely drowning out George, who has stopped talking and just looks on.