Kellyanne Conway provides a nearly perfect answer to the latest crisis du jour emerging in the national media — Donald Trump’s Twitter addiction. CNN host Chris Cuomo tangled with Conway over Trump’s tweeted ripostes to the cast of Hamilton this weekend, arguing that a president-elect should aim to heal divisions rather than provoke them — and shouldn’t he be busy with the transition rather than trolling on Twitter anyway? Conway argued back that taking “five minutes” to communicate on Twitter won’t bring the Republic to its knees, and challenged Cuomo to explain why this matters to him at all by asking, “Why do you care?”
— CNN (@CNN) November 21, 2016
“Why do you care?” Conway said when asked by “New Day” host Chris Cuomo about Trump’s “Hamilton” feud. “Who is to say that he can’t do that, make a comment, spend five minutes on a tweet and making a comment and still be president-elect?”
Conway, a senior adviser to Trump, criticized media coverage of the social media controversy, saying that Trump is “just trying to cut through the nonsense of people telling Americans what is important to them, which we saw through the elections wasn’t true. People constantly being told this issue, this statement, this past transgression is important to you — and Americans said, ‘No, it’s not. What’s important to me is this 100-day plan.'”
Cuomo acts as though this is unprecedented, but he must have had amnesia in 2009. Barack Obama and the entire White House declared war on Fox News, tried to get them excluded from media pools, and constantly belittled the network and its reporters. That went beyond criticism and into much more questionable territory of trying to intimidate a media outlet into submission or silence. It didn’t work for that reason; the rest of the media refused to play along with the freeze-out, likely out of concern for the precedent it would have set, and Fox’s ratings went higher than ever. Obama and his team also tried the same thing with Rush Limbaugh at around the same time, with the same outcome.
The real issue isn’t that the president criticized the speech of others. It’s that he wasted a lot of time and effort punching down, and therefore elevating the status of his critics to his own level. That’s a legit critique of Trump in this case, too; he’s basically guaranteeing Hamilton cast members all sorts of publicity from media from which they can continue attacking him. Cuomo doesn’t touch on that point, but instead offers up some poorly conceived notion of the presidency as a non-partisan and opinionless figurehead in American politics. Conway torches that notion without mentioning Obama once, even though Obama is still complaining about Fox News and Rush Limbaugh this week:
“People didn’t see me coming,” Obama said as we drove through the night. “In southern Illinois, in those counties I won, I was at V.F.W.s and fish fries hearing people’s stories and talking to folks, so that they knew me. They weren’t getting me through Fox or Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart or RedState.
“In ’08, they saw me coming, but I was a guy named Barack Hussein Obama coming up against the Clinton machine, so no way! So they weren’t focussed on me, and I established a connection. Then came the stuff: Ayers and Reverend Wright and all the rest. What I’m suggesting is that the lens through which people understand politics and politicians is extraordinarily powerful. And Trump understands the new ecosystem, in which facts and truth don’t matter. You attract attention, rouse emotions, and then move on. You can surf those emotions. I’ve said it before, but if I watched Fox I wouldn’t vote for me!”
Say, this guy is president right now. Shouldn’t Cuomo be asking Obama why he’s being so divisive and why he’s spending time criticizing people rather than doing his job?
Conway scores points on Cuomo and Democrats on another matter, too. Democrats have been shrieking about Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions to Attorney General, but Conway points out that they didn’t seem to worry about Sessions a couple of years ago when it might have mattered:
“Look at the full measure of the man, and I know people who don’t want to respect the election results,” Conway said. She said that if Sessions was so unqualified for office, “why didn’t Democrats put anybody up against him the last time he ran [for Senate] in 2014?”
“If you’re against him, be the sacrificial lamb. Say I’m going to stop this guy because of who he is. They couldn’t do it. Because they know who he is,” she said.
Maybe the idea of having Conway as press secretary isn’t so bad after all. One final point on the Twitter addiction: Conway argues that Trump’s using it to get over the heads of the national media and speak directly to the voters. That could explain why the media considers it a crisis.