“Sidelined” is used in the past tense here, according to White House sources who spoke to CNN. She’ll be back on Fox News tonight, which may or may not be a coincidence timed to try to “disprove” Dylan Byers’s report.
A threshold question: Who besides Trump himself would have the authority to tell a big cheese like Conway to stay off TV for a week? If the answer is “no one,” how likely is it that Trump himself would punish arguably his most effective and loyal surrogate for errors she made in the course of defending him? This is a guy who caused a minor international incident this week because a five-minute bit he saw on Tucker Carlson convinced him that something had happened “last night in Sweden.” He’s not a stickler for accuracy.
Kellyanne Conway, once the most visible spokesperson for the Trump White House, has been sidelined from television appearances for making statements that were at odds with the administration’s official stance, White House sources told CNNMoney on Wednesday.
Conway has not given a television interview since early last week. On that Monday, she claimed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had the president’s “full confidence.” Hours later, Flynn resigned…
She was “off message,” a White House source said…
“Trump was using her as an effective surrogate, then she started becoming ineffective,” one of the sources said. “So they’re letting the heat cool off.”
If Conway’s “off-message,” maybe that’s because she’s not being included in some of the meetings that would allow her to be more on-message. Whatever the case, Conway herself claims the CNN story is nonsense, that she was simply using the time to “focus on other pieces of my portfolio.” White House spokesmen are also calling BS on CNN:
“False,” White House senior assistant press secretary Michael C. Short wrote in an email to TPM. “For future reference, I handle defense, homeland security, and foreign affairs – not gossip column inquiries.”
“Those accusations are completely false,” another White House official told TPM by phone.
“This is just not true,” a third White House official wrote in an email to TPM. “She has several media appearances this week and has been focused on deeply invloved (sic) with the joint session speech this week taking up a lot of her time.”
She has had a rough month. There was the “Bowling Green massacre,” the snafu about Flynn’s status, the impromptu commercial for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line, and plenty of criticism from people in cable news insisting that her credibility was so thoroughly shot that she didn’t deserve their airtime. The White House source who allegedly told CNN that she’s gone from being a uniquely effective surrogate to a uniquely ineffective one in short order isn’t wrong. But go back to my question: Who in the White House would have the juice required to bench Conway for a week?
WaPo raises an interesting possibility. As it turns out, Conway’s disappearance from TV this week happened to coincide with the appointment of Mike Dubke, a consultant from the establishment side of the party, as White House communications director. If Dubke had gone to Trump (possibly with Priebus’s and Spicer’s backing) and asked him to sit Conway for a week, Trump might have granted the request as a show of faith in the new guy’s judgment and a vote of confidence in his authority. Another possibility has to do with that letter sent to the White House a few weeks ago by the Office of Government Ethics demanding disciplinary action against Conway for her ethical breach in touting Ivanka’s apparel. Maybe the White House concluded that appropriate discipline in this case was to take Conway off the air for a bit. Although there’s an obvious problem with that theory: It imagines that Trump agrees that Conway really did do something wrong by advertising Ivanka’s merchandise. Anyone seriously believe that?
There’s another problem with the idea that the White House “sidelined” Conway: She did a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt just yesterday. It’s an odd form of disciplinary action that would let her be heard by a large audience but not seen by one, suggesting that the “sidelining” is either exaggerated or never really happened. It may be, though, that Team Trump will limit her to friendly interviewers for awhile to try to reduce the chances of another buzzworthy gaffe. Hewitt is a Republican and whoever hosts her on Fox News tonight is bound to be pro-Trump. She used to be the person the White House favored to do battle with the likes of Jake Tapper and Chuck Todd but maybe it’ll be a diet of Fox and conservative talk radio for her for awhile.
Here’s Scarborough continuing to knife Conway — for at least the third time in two weeks — on Colbert’s show last night. The key bit comes at around a minute in. Exit question: Given the rumors of rivalries and turf wars inside the White House, is it possible that Conway’s gotten some of her facts (most notably on Flynn’s status) wrong because an adversary has been feeding her bad information? If so, you’d expect Trump to have taken action against that person by now, right?