Kellyanne Conway works for Donald Trump. Her husband, George Conway, is famously doing everything in his power to keep Trump from winning reelection. And that arrangement, for some reason, seemed to be working just fine for everyone until a few days ago. Both were expected to be very involved in the presidential campaign’s final stretch to Election Day, she for Team Trump, he for the Lincoln Project, his anti-Trump PAC. Now, both have stepped down to “focus on family.”
As late as last week, Kellyanne and George were both appearing on television or tweeting in their oppositional partisan foxholes. What changed? And why now, a little more than two months before the election?
The resignations of two major Republican figures on the eve of the Republican National Convention may seem sudden, but for anyone who’s been following the story of their oldest daughter, Claudia Conway, and her social media rebellion this summer, it didn’t come completely out of nowhere. Neither Kellyanne nor George’s statements, which they posted on Twitter on Sunday night, directly mentioned Claudia, but the announcements followed a 24-hour period that had seen the 15-year-old publicly announce her wish to seek emancipation from her parents and claim “years of childhood trauma and abuse.”
Claudia first made headlines earlier this year when journalists discovered she’d been building an audience on TikTok, the video-sharing app that’s especially popular with Gen Z. The fact of her being on TikTok itself wasn’t notable, but the content she was posting there was: On her account, she criticized the president (aka her mother’s boss) and shared messages in support of progressive causes like LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter.
Social and news media began to seize on Claudia as a resistance hero, but as my colleague Christina Cauterucci noted earlier in the summer, “it’s hard to tell whether she comes by her politics honestly or simply wants to irritate her parents.” Claudia earned more headlines when she posted that her parents were forcing her to get off social media, and then more when she got back on social media, and still more when she engaged with or clapped back at her parents on Twitter. She used social media the same way a lot of teenagers do: to get attention, to rebel against her parents, to say contradictory things, to post videos of her lip-syncing and dancing. These things were only noteworthy because of who her parents were and the public spectacle they had made of their domestic discord—not because they were the work of a wise-beyond-her-years activist or political savior.
It’s in this context that you should understand the most recent Claudia news cycle, which started late on Saturday after the announcement of Kellyanne’s speaking slot at this week’s RNC. Claudia tweeted that she was “DEVASTATED” that her mother was planning to speak and that she was “officially pushing for emancipation.” She had criticism for her father as well, writing that despite sharing “common sense when it comes to our president,” the two agreed on nothing politically and that followers should “stop ‘stanning’ him.” She also posted on TikTok, writing that “Running away Phase 1 starts tomorrow at 7 am.”
On Sunday morning, Claudia tweeted again to say that she was “not getting emancipated because of my mom’s job” but “because of years of childhood trauma and abuse.” She also wrote that she planned to take a hiatus from social media, adding, “no hate to my parents please.”
This talk of emancipation and abuse, which was not elaborated on further, seems to be what made the Conways start taking the situation seriously. What could have been written off as a kid acting out had ballooned into a media circus. That evening, within minutes of each other, Kellyanne and George Conway both tweeted that they had resigned from their coveted jobs, both citing a need to spend more time on family matters.
Despite that social media hiatus she promised, after her parents’ statements went up, Claudia was back on TikTok, taking credit and grandstanding—which, again, is pretty understandable: She’s a teenager. Her parents, on the other hand, are adults, and they don’t seem ready to let go either. Neither of them could resist what read as last jabs at each other in their farewell-for-now statements: Kellyanne went out praising Trump’s leadership and its “positive impact on the peace and prosperity of the nation, and on millions of Americans who feel forgotten no more.” George stayed on message as well: “Needless to say, I continue to support the Lincoln Project and its mission. Passionately.” Best of luck to them on remote learning this fall.