Politics

Claudia Conway Isn’t a Liberal Hero. She’s a Normal Teenager.

Her public rebellion is an understandable reaction to her parents’ performance. We don’t have to lionize her for it.

George Conway, making a sort of "not guilty," expression and Kellyanne Conway speaking.
Claudia Conway’s father and mother. Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Georgetown Law/Handout and Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Claudia Conway has made a lot of headlines in recent days. Ever since New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz called attention to the fact that the 15-year-old daughter of Kellyanne (Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and current counselor) and George (conservative attorney and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project) was posting videos about her progressive political views on TikTok, news outlets have salivated over the spectacle of this Trump-adjacent family drama. Insider and USA Today ran interviews with the Conway teen. Some outlets, such as Teen Vogue, published multiple stories about her social media posts. Others ran extensive recaps of every beat of the story as it developed: the existence of Conway’s posts, the content of her interviews, her public battle with her parents as they pleaded with her to get off social media, and, finally, the locking-down of her accounts.

It’s a remarkably thorough spate of coverage for a set of utterly unremarkable TikTok videos. Take out the frequent mentions of her parents—“yes, my mother is Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president of the United States … soooo, your point?”—and Conway is every other teenage girl on social media: pouting for the camera, messing with her hair, shaking her butt in tiny gym shorts, mouthing off to rude commenters, posting a line or two about the political topic du jour, calling Trump a “r@pi$t.” As one would expect from the social media postings of an average 15-year-old, they contain no sophisticated political commentary or ambitious acts of civil disobedience. And yet the replies to Lorenz’s tweets were ecstatic. Commenters praised Conway’s looks (“stunningly beautiful”), applauded her politics (“she is displaying prescient criticism”), and touted her as a potential leader of her generation (“this girl is our future”). When Conway’s father tweeted a plea for journalists to stop contacting his daughter, one much-retweeted reply compared Claudia Conway to Greta Thunberg.

The impulse to valorize a teenager for antagonizing her parents with her political views—something teenagers have done since the dawn of time—is both strange and sad. Unlike her parents, Conway’s TikToks will have no impact on our federal government or national political discourse. Her behavior is more akin to that of her mother—attention-seeking, self-contradictory, thriving on conflict—than that of a nascent activist who deserves a national platform. That’s not to say we should blame her for any of this. Conway’s parents have subjected her to a terrible adolescence: Her early teen years have been spent on the outskirts of a sadistic presidential administration and in the middle of a marriage disintegrating in the public eye. She deserves our sympathy, not our admiration.

One of the many reasons the media should stop covering Conway as a manifestation of the anger many Americans feel toward her mother is that it’s hard to tell whether she comes by her politics honestly or simply wants to irritate her parents. She told Insider that her mom is “a badass,” her “best friend,” and “100 percent a feminist,” but a few days later tweeted, “If you’re a woman supporting Trump, I feel bad for you. You must really hate yourself. Lots of internalized misogyny.” When someone asked whether she meant it as a dig at her mother, Conway said, “Maybe.” On TikTok, she asked commenters to stop posting negative things about her parents, whom she called “amazing people,” then turned around and mercilessly mocked her dad on Twitter when he asked journalists to stop interviewing her. “You’re just mad that I’m finally getting my voice heard,” she tweeted. “Sorry your marriage failed, 💅🏼.” Conway also livestreamed her mother trying to take her phone away, saying, “I’m just showing everyone the truth. You’re literally not letting me use my freedom of speech.” This set of incoherent sentiments seems to suggest that Conway is trying to manipulate and weaponize the media in a bid for her parents’ attention by saying inflammatory things about her mom’s employer. If that’s what she’s doing, it’s working. And while George can complain all he wants about how the media took the bait, he only has himself to blame—she might as well have taken the tactic from his political playbook.

Or maybe, like many teens, Conway just wants to be noticed—by anyone. “I couldn’t care less about media exposure—I’ll use whatever platform I’ve given, big or small, for good,” she tweeted, while complaining about being “silenced” by her parents. She roasted the media for identifying her by her parents—“lil psa that my name isn’t ‘Kellyanne Conway’s daughter’ or ‘George Conway’s daughter!’ ”—yet she mentions them in several TikTok videos, talks at length about them in her interviews, and surely knows that the only reason people care about her is because of who her parents are and how her views run counter to their politics. (According to People, over less than three days last week, Conway gained around 60,000 TikTok followers.) Unlike other teenagers, like Thunberg or the Parkland activists, who have rightly earned international news coverage, Conway doesn’t appear to have a particularly firm attachment to the issues that undergird her professed political identity. “Even if you have opposite views of me, as long as you’re informed and able to see both sides, that’s all that really matters,” she told Insider.

This whole Conway news cycle embodies the very worst of 21st century American politics. It’s hyperfocused on interpersonal feuds and feel-good clapbacks, more concerned with the building and maintenance of political personal brands than with actual political activities, constricted to the 140 characters of a tweet or the 60 seconds of a TikTok video, and completely stripped of the impact of real-world policy on people’s lives. Kellyanne Conway is one of the people most responsible for the ascendance of Trump and Trumpism in American life, and yet liberals see her teenage daughter whining at her on social media as a sign of some kind of renewed promise of a brighter American future. They’re having a good chuckle at how awkward family dinners must be at the Conway household. Meanwhile, the reality show presidency with the blood of more than 130,000 Americans on its hands continues its machinations apace, regardless of the rubbernecking diversions its characters provide. “Kellyanne Conway and her anti-Trump daughter may be the future of reality TV,” Arwa Mahdawi opined in the Guardian. “Don’t be surprised if Keeping Up With the Conways comes to a TV screen near you soon.” The New York Post filed its story about Conway “trolling” her mom under “Entertainment.”

People are clearly tuning in. “I literally woke up to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of views of people cheering me on and saying they stan me and all this stuff,” she told Insider. “It’s just so beautiful for me, and I think that’s the beauty of this generation.” Considering all she’s endured with her parents, maybe it’s fine for Claudia Conway to enjoy this moment. We adults should know better.

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