early and often

Kellyanne Conway Tells Trump to Blame His Advisers for Losing in 2020

Trump and Kellyanne Conway before she annoyed him by telling him he lost in 2020. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

On a day when the chattering classes were mostly absorbed with debates over gas stoves and the continuing mystery of George Santos, a familiar political figure lobbed a hand grenade into MAGA-land via the unorthodox vehicle of the New York Times op-ed pages. The author, Kellyanne Conway, generally knows what she’s doing. After several decades in and around GOP Beltway power circles as a pollster and “strategist,” she struck political gold in 2016 as one of the few conventional Republican figures willing to take a flyer on Donald J. Trump.

Not being exactly well-sourced in Trump’s inner circle, I don’t know if Conway was estranged from the Boss by the end of his administration. She had to have been embarrassed by the very public differences of opinion she had with her husband, George Conway, a constant font of Never Trump barbs aimed at the 45th president, which was widely assumed to be the reason she gave up her White House advisory gig in August of 2020. But we do know her 2021 memoir, Here’s the Deal, annoyed Trump, as Politico explained at the time:

In a Thursday morning post on his social media network, Truth Social, Trump refuted Conway’s assertion that she “may have been the first person Donald Trump trusted in his inner circle who told him that he had come up short this time.”

“Kellyanne Conway never told me that she thought we lost the election. If she had, I wouldn’t have dealt with her any longer — she would have been wrong — could go back to her crazy husband,” Trump wrote. “Writing books can make people say some very strange things. I wonder why?”

All of this is useful background in understanding Conway’s op-ed. It is framed as “The Cases for and Against Trump,” as though she is objectively assessing public opinion within and beyond the Republican Party about his 2024 comeback bid. But it’s really an oddly public memo to the ex-president on how he should think about what happened in 2020 so that he can win in 2024.

After a few hundred words about the brilliance of his 2016 campaign and the stunning success of his administration, Conway suggests Trump can win in 2024 with just one crucial adjustment in his strategy:

For Mr. Trump to succeed, it means fewer insults and more insights; a campaign that centers on the future, not the past, and that channels the people’s grievances and not his own; and a reclamation of the forgotten Americans who ushered him into the White House the first time and who are suffering economically under Mr. Biden.

After a long detour in which she defends Trump from attacks on his complicity for the 2022 midterms (while pointing out that DeSantis and other potential 2024 rivals campaigned for some of the same losers) and takes a few more shots at Joe Biden, Conway comes to the nub of her case for — or more accurately to — Trump: He needs to recognize he was indeed betrayed in 2020, but by someone other than the alleged Democratic fraudsters or the back-stabbing RINOs he has demonized:

Any repeat by the 2024 Trump campaign of the disastrous mistakes in personnel, strategy and tactics of the 2020 Trump campaign may lead to the same 2020 result. With roughly $1.6 billion to spend and Joe Biden as the opponent, the 2020 election should have been a blowout. Instead, they proved the adage that the fastest way to make a small fortune is to have a very large one and waste most of it.

Ouchy ouchy.

An additional Conway suggestion to Trump probably hits closer to home for him, but maybe this, too, can be chalked up to bad advice from the bozos who ran his 2020 campaign:

Republicans must also invest in and be vocal about early voting. This is a competition for ballots, not just votes. As ridiculous as it was to vote nearly two months before Election Day and count the votes for three weeks thereafter, some of the state-based COVID-compelled measures for voting are now permanent. If these are the rules, adapt or die politically.

Will Trump listen to this advice to change his stubborn ways and learn to blame a different culprit for his 2020 underperformance? It’s not entirely out of the question. His much-ignored 2024 campaign announcement speech was not the grievance-fest that most observers expected, brimming with 2020 election denial. It mostly tracked the argument that life was better under his administration than under Biden’s, which simplifies the MAGA message into a reminder a very recent glowing past (if you ignore a few efforts to overturn the constitution, a horrid mishandling of a global pandemic, serial assaults on individual rights, contempt for the social-safety net, and constant claims of credit for things Trump had nothing to do with).

He can win on that message, Conway suggests, if he’ll just listen to the right voices:

Success lies in having advisers who tell you what you need to know, not just what you want to hear. And in listening to the people, who have the final say.

It’s certainly an unorthodox way to pitch a campaign strategy, or perhaps even a job devising it. But if she can get it into a medium like the sycophantic TV shows Trump actually watches, he might disregard Conway’s troublesome husband and fire some people and get a whole new lease on political life.

Conway Tells Trump to Blame His Advisers for Losing in 2020