Books

The Nasty Woman

Kellyanne Conway’s memoir settles scores with a litany of “overrated men”—and lays the groundwork for 2024.

Conway standing in the middle of a crowded White House conference room
Kellyanne Conway at the White House on election night 2020. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“By every imaginable metric, I should have been a Democrat,” reads the first sentence in Kellyanne Conway’s memoir, Here’s the Deal, surely the nastiest Trump administration memoir yet, and possibly, given Conway’s track record, the most flagrantly dishonest. In other words, she writes, “a feminist. A man-hater.” That’s one of the more surprising passages in the book, because for someone who professes not to be a man-hater, Conway sure does hate a lot of men.

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Except for one man, of course: former President Donald Trump, who hired her to run the first successful presidential campaign managed by a woman and, she insists, “treated me and other working moms with respect.” But in 500 pages packed with more score-settling than a Quentin Tarantino movie, Conway gives free rein to her contempt for Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Mark Meadows, Brad Parscale, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and countless other unnamed male Trump staffers. They condescended to her. They underestimated her. They stole credit from her. They sidelined her. And now she’s going to make them regret it.

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News coverage of Here’s the Deal has mostly focused on two of the book’s revelations. One is that Conway claims to have told Trump that he lost the 2020 election. (Trump denies this, but he’s a liar too, so who knows?) Then there are the glimpses Conway offers into her marriage to attorney George Conway, who originally championed her success as Trump’s campaign manager but later converted to Never Trump conservatism and founded the Lincoln Project. Conway quips that she lost her husband to Twitter, “and she’s not even hot”—a joke she makes twice; let no one call this book meticulously edited. But she also admits to feelings of betrayal and stress as her previously reticent husband became a tweeting machine devoted to slamming her boss. The public fascination with the Conways’ marriage once this rift developed wasn’t surprising. Families across the nation suffered schisms over Trumpism, and here was a case study happening on the steps of the White House.

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That was only the beginning of Conway’s troubles at home. As uncomfortable as her husband’s jibes at her boss made her, he didn’t directly criticize her, even if she doesn’t actually acknowledge this, so closely did she identify with her employer. Not so the couple’s eldest daughter, Claudia, who, galvanized by the racial justice protests of 2020, launched a robust progressive TikTok account. A year later, Claudia made murky accusations of abuse against her mother, then walked them back, in a series of since-deleted TikTok videos. Completely skirting Claudia’s incendiary complaints about herself, Conway lights into then New York Times journalist Taylor Lorenz for calling attention to Claudia’s TikTok, and for DMing the then 15-year-old without getting her parents’ permission first.

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It’s a signature Conwayian rhetorical move, to spin off into arias of outrage about some side issue in order to avoid addressing the matter at hand. When Wolf Blitzer gingerly raised the subject of her husband’s tweets during a CNN interview, Conway noted, fairly enough, that George was expressing his own opinion, but then went on the offensive with a heaping bowlful of word salad, which for some reason she reprints verbatim: “And where—honestly, where is the shame? Where is the introspection of people who have said for three years, respectfully, Wolf, actually beginning in May of 2017, I’ll quote ‘your wife’s husband’ right now. I won’t talk about your marriage, but I’ll quote your wife’s husband.”

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When she can’t confuse a discussion with arguments as tangled as a pailful of eels, Conway simply avoids it. There’s no mention in Here’s the Deal of her multiple references to the completely fictional “Bowling Green massacre” or the Muslim travel ban supposedly justified by it. The book does get into Conway’s infamous reference to “alternative facts” during a 2017 interview on Meet the Press about press secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement that Trump’s inauguration drew the largest audience of any president’s. She claims that she misspoke by conflating the phrases “alternative information” and “additional facts,” which she somehow believes to be acceptable even as she acknowledges that the claim isn’t demonstrably true. She characterizes the whole debacle as an “unforced error” on Spicer’s part—another man’s mess she was expected to clean up—even though the ever-insecure Trump had actually forced Spicer to tell the lie.

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Here’s the Deal is replete with references to out-of-control “male egos,” above all those of the established Republican political consultants, who, she claims in a spectacularly mixed metaphor, had “failed upwards for years, greased each other on a new gravy train to nowhere while the political graveyard was littered with clients they had flayed for money and failed at the ballot box.” Such men, she attests (and for what it’s worth, I believe her), shut her out and blocked her advancement when she started her own polling firm specializing in surveying the female voters they also discounted. For someone who professes not to be a feminist, Conway is obsessed with male privilege, even if she’d never call it that. She presents herself as motivated by love of family and country, but Here’s the Deal feels most alive when she’s seething at the “overrated, underachieving men who had ridiculed and dismissed me for years.”

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In a rare instance of shrewd judgment, Trump recognized Conway’s ability, and as a result won her devotion. Just how uncritical that devotion is, who can say. According to Cliff Sims, a midlevel staffer whose Team of Vipers was one of the first Trump administration memoirs published, Conway’s text messaging app featured a stream of conversations with journalists in which Conway leaked stories, trashed rivals, and described Trump as “like a child she had to set straight.” In Here’s the Deal, she boasts of creating a PowerPoint presentation so good that Trump was able to pay attention to it for 25 whole minutes despite “senior advisors” betting he’d get bored after four or five slides. Can such a sharp operator really be oblivious to how dumb this makes her boss look?

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At no point does Conway acknowledge that the dysfunction she describes in the Trump White House—the chaos, the backbiting, the turnover—could be the fault of the man in charge, that the “businessman” Trump voters thought they were electing was an incompetent and destructive manager. She attributes Trump’s “connection to the American people” to “the unfiltered nature of his communication via Twitter and other means,” and yet reproaches her husband for behaving much the same way online. Never does it seem to occur to her that the acrimonious, personalized quality of political debate on TV, online, and in her own home owes much to the candidate she helped to elect.

Or at least, not that Conway admits. Here’s the Deal can be read as the delusional account of a woman blind to the shortcomings of the powerful man who gave her a shot. But it can also be read—will be read, by those who matter—as an advertisement for her own consultancy business. She’s such a skilled prevaricator that I found myself wondering if she really hates all those male GOP consultants so virulently—or is she just taking out the competition? Furthermore, the ease with which she burns her bridges with Kushner while buttering up her one-time client Mike Pence (praising “his clear-eyed conservatism” and “his midwestern decency”) make clear who she thinks her party’s next candidate will be. Only a fool would trust her, but only a bigger fool would write her off.

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