The Slatest

We See Your Cryptic Tweets, Kellyanne Conway. Oh, We See Them All Right.

Kellyanne Conway spins with reporters following the Oct. 9 presidential debate.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is recognized as the stabilizing presence that has kept Donald Trump on message during those four or five total occasions that he has stayed on message. Some reporting has shown the media narrative may be a myth, and since it’s a media narrative, I’m inclined to believe it’s a myth. And in any case, Conway has benefited from her proximity to Trump and the rock-bottom expectations surrounding his campaign; her previous clients include such caustic figures as U.S. Rep. Steve King, former Rep. Michele Bachmann, and calamitous former Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin, and yet, thanks to Trump, she is thought of as the adult in the room and not a nutter consigliere.

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But for fun’s sake let’s assume the narrative is true, and that Conway’s the mercenary responsible for her client’s occasional bouts of responsibility. Could it be, then, that she’s so preoccupied with keeping him on message that she can’t keep herself on message?

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Or is she just bad at Twitter?

Trump’s campaign meltdown coincided with a similar meltdown of resolve on Conway’s Twitter feed. She understands that her every word is watched, and on several occasions she’s issued cryptic tweets that make political observers question precisely what’s going on in her headspace. We’ve seen her quietly re-evaluate her life choices on cable news. She’s been doing it on Twitter, too.

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On Oct. 14, Trump was speaking at a North Carolina rally during which he categorized one of his accusers as “not my first choice,” among other things. BuzzFeed reporter McKay Coppins noted that a fan at the rally had shouted at Trump, “Stay on the issues!” Conway retweeted it with the following commentary:

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Was this a direct-message attempt gone wrong? Was this the beginning of Conway jokily distancing herself from her candidate?

During Wednesday’s debate, Conway retweeted the following remark from Washington Post reporter Robert Costa, with a little arrow pointing to it, indicating she found it a worthwhile piece of commentary:

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It’s not clear whether Costa was making a joke about the media narrative or reinforcing the media narrative with commentary. That means it’s also not clear whether Conway was making a joke about or an earnest appreciation of what was either a joke or an earnest observation from Costa. There are dimensions upon dimensions within this quoted retweet. What does it all mean? Who’s to say?

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And then here’s Conway during Thursday night’s Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, retweeting a Clinton joke about how Donald Trump won’t pay her since he has a history of stiffing contractors:

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This one is probably just her being bad at Twitter.

The first two, though? Those may be Conway winking to political reporters that she’s not responsible for Trump’s worst moments and should continue getting the usual flattering press. She probably recognizes that reporters will share and digest her cryptic tweets but deem them too minor to write up. That may have been the case the first time. But now she’s made at least three such tweets, which means it’s a trend, which means we’re writing it up and asking what the deal is here.

Read more Slate coverage of the 2016 campaign.

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