As Kellyanne Conway sleepwalks her way through a series of increasingly embarrassing interviews, it’s been hard not to feel sorry for her. It was difficult not to feel bad for her when “Saturday Night Live” depicted her as a craven hack driven to “Fatal Attraction”-style debasement by a desire to appear on the news. When the cast of “Morning Joe” pointed out that Ms. Conway’s recent appearances on news shows proved her a useless source of information, when they sneered at Ms. Conway’s apparent White House ostracization, it was difficult to not feel stirrings of sympathy.
But I can’t feel sorry for Kellyanne Conway. Not anymore.
Not long ago, Ms. Conway felt like a vital part of a system that needed smart people on both sides to make it work. As a pollster who studied the electoral behavior of women, she served as a bridge between the right wing and a demographic that often seemed to perplex them.
The first time I saw Ms. Conway speak was at a New Yorker Festival panel in 2012. I was new to New York City. I was new to writing about politics. I was new to writing, period. On a panel about women voters, Ms. Conway spoke with a pragmatism that stood in opposition to contemporary TV personalities like Elisabeth Hasselbeck, whose brand of delicate pouting defined the conservative zeitgeist. Ms. Conway didn’t appeal to her audience’s sympathy. She had facts.
I liked watching her speak then. I watched her the way a person might stand at the kitchen window and watch a raccoon abscond with the first tomato of spring. I didn’t agree with what she was doing, but I admired her chutzpah.
Once she took the reins of Donald Trump’s campaign, though, she went from smooth to slippery. She’d hammer Hillary Clinton for talking too much about gender and duck behind her femininity in the face of legitimate criticism. If she succeeded, it was because she was Kellyanne. If she failed, it was because she was a woman.
In the months leading up to the election, Ms. Conway generously lent her womanhood as a smokescreen to the Trump campaign. She tried to insert a watered-down version of feminism into the candidate’s platform, despite the fact that no mainstream feminist-leaning organizations supported him. When her boss was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women, Kellyanne Conway “as a woman”-ed her way out of it. Confronted about Mr. Trump’s chauvinism, she snapped back that women who were in poverty were not served during the Obama years, as though that somehow undid her boss’s history. I gasped so frequently when she spoke that after each interview was over, I’d feel faint, like I’d spent the last several hours blowing up balloons.
When Ms. Conway breached federal ethics laws by hawking Ivanka Trump’s “stuff” in the press briefing room, she got off with no immediate penalty besides being “counseled on the subject.” She told Fox News that the president supported her, that she was lucky to have a nice boss like Donald Trump and that every woman in America should hope to have a boss like him. She made it sound as though declining to punish a woman for ethics violations was somehow feminist, and as though all that matters to women is how their bosses treat them personally, not how their bosses impact the lives of other women.
If I wasn’t too exhausted to feel insulted, I’d have felt insulted.
As Kellyanne’s once-forceful cable news denials have disintegrated into whimpers, I can’t say I feel anything for her at all. I don’t mind when people point out how tired she looks. I simply cannot dredge up any sympathy for a person who has acknowledged the structural problems most women face only when she is personally facing them, or used them as derailing tactics when she’s losing an argument. I can’t mourn the downfall of a fair-weather feminist, a woman who has used her power to hurt other women.
Ms. Conway made her bed. And now it’s time for her to get some sleep.
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Erin Gloria Ryan (@morninggloria) is a senior editor at The Daily Beast and the host of Café.com’s Girl Friday podcast.