The Trump administration has found its Martha Mitchell. His name is George Conway.
Mitchell, for those too young to remember the darkest days of Watergate, was the outspoken Arkansas-born wife of President Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign manager and former attorney general John Mitchell. Known as “the mouth of the South,” she became known for her late-night calls to reporters, in which she said that the Nixon White House was trying to make her husband a scapegoat for its own nefarious acts. There was more than a little truth to her claims, and her husband did indeed go to prison. But at the time, the president’s men dismissed her as an alcoholic, and crazy to boot.
No one would say that about Conway, a lawyer of sterling conservative credentials who early on in the Trump administration took himself out of consideration for a top Justice Department job. He is also the husband of Trump counselor and cable news warrior Kellyanne Conway, whom he married in 2001. Their love story began when he asked a friend, the arch-right pundit Ann Coulter, to arrange an introduction with the Republican pollster he had seen on TV. He dialed back his own career with a top New York law firm to move their family down to Washington, so she could pursue hers.
Follow his Twitter feed, and you will see a devastating counternarrative to his wife’s determined spin, running reminders of how Donald Trump’s chaotic presidency is veering beyond anything that resembles normal. If she is famous for coming up with the Orwellian concept of “alternative facts,” her husband’s Twitterfeed is a compilation of “alternative-alternative facts.”
George Conway mostly retweets things that others have posted, with occasional commentary. After Trump horrified fiscal conservatives by signing a $1.3 trillion spending bill, Conway twice retweeted the growing national debt total. His feed frequently includes things that are being said on television about the president’s mounting legal troubles and the chaos in his White House. “This is flabbergasting,” he tweeted on March 28, adding a link to a New York Times report that Trump’s lawyer had broached the idea of a presidential pardon for two of Trump’s former top advisers, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort.
A particularly notable tweet from Conway passed along CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins’s observation that “this is why officials are so hesitant to speak for Trump. He says one thing, then does the opposite. “
“So true,” Conway wrote. “It’s absurd. Which is why people are banging down the doors to be his comms director.” The job of communications director has become open with the departure of Trump aide Hope Hicks, and the name most often mentioned to fill it is . . . Kellyanne Conway.
After The Post’s Reliable Source column took notice last week of George Conway’s snarky tweets about Trump, he deleted some of them, including the one about the job for which his wife is in line. It was thought that he had been brought to heel.
But on Sunday, Conway was back at it again, retweeting links to criticism of Trump, including a warning by former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) that the president’s “hyperbolic” style could land him behind bars.
Is the message that Conway is sending here aimed at his wife - or her boss? Is this his way of trying to sabotage her job - or rescue her from it? Or maybe his tweets are a lifted eyebrow, to let the rest of us know that the Conway household is not divorced from reality, but in on the joke. George Conway declines to say anything publicly about any of this, which leaves his tweets to speak for themselves. Still, it seems fair to wonder whether, if the gender roles were reversed in this marriage, he would be labeled some kind of kook. George Conway: The Realest Housewife of D.C.
Being part of a Washington power couple in the Trump era has turned out to be a treacherous proposition. The first lady rarely speaks, even as her husband’s alleged adventures with a porn star get endless play in the media. One of the president’s daughters and his equally unqualified son-in-law are top-level White House advisers, whose roles seem to shift according to the moment. One Cabinet wife has been blamed for financial mismanagement at her husband’s agency. (See Carson, Candy: Office furniture). Another has been taken down by her own obliviousness. (See Linton, Louise: Conspicuous consumption).
But take heart. George Conway is still out there somewhere in the digital universe, a spouse who can’t be forced to shut up. Wherever she is, Martha Mitchell is wishing someone had invented Twitter 50 years ago.
Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics.