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In 2015, Kellyanne Conway found herself en route to pick up her kids at elementary school, simultaneously pushing back against an attempt by Michael Cohen — then Donald Trump’s personal attorney and fixer — to rig the annual Conservative Political Action Conference’s buzzy straw poll, which her firm was running, in Trump’s favor.
“‘Mr. Trump’ needed to come in first in the PAC straw poll,” Conway recounted that Cohen told her in a phone call. “He repeated himself. Mr Trump needed to come in first.”
Four years later, firmly ensconced in the White House as senior counselor to President Trump, Conway said she found herself again facing the surreal, when Trump’s daughter Ivanka handed her a Post-it note with “the names of two local doctors who specialized in couples therapy.”
The marriage between Conway and her husband had erupted into public view when George T. Conway III began attacking Trump on Twitter, and Conway said Ivanka was responding to her own openness about seeking professional support.
“I noticed she had avoided putting that in a text or an email. I appreciated the information and her thoughtfulness and wanted to pursue it,” Conway recalled. “After I showed George the names, he rejected one and said a halfhearted ‘okay’ to the other while looking at his phone. We never went.”
These scenes and others are part of Conway’s nearly 500-page new memoir, “Here’s the Deal,” which The Washington Post obtained in advance of its Tuesday publication.
Part personal chronicle and part political journey, Conway’s book is filled with the sorts of barbed one-liners and bon mots that she dispensed on cable news on Trump’s behalf, becoming — depending on one’s perspective — increasingly famous or infamous.
Unlike many other Trump-focused tomes in the post-presidency era, Conway has not set out to pen a scathing tell-all, in which she distances herself from the president or administration she once served.
Her memoir is peppered with references to “Trump Derangement Syndrome” — a term she uses to refer to the media and the political left, who says she was unable to accept the reality that Trump vanquished Hillary Clinton in 2016. Conway is also among the relatively small group of staffers who managed to leave the White House still in Trump’s inner circle.
Her book walks a similar line, offering what she views as a candid assessment of some of her colleagues in the White House and the media — both positive and negative — but never skewering Trump himself.
Conway reserves some of her harshest criticism for Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband and a Trump senior adviser, whom she describes as “shrewd and calculating”; “a man of knowing nods, quizzical looks, and sidebar inquiries”; and someone who, as the president’s son-in-law, knew that “no matter how disastrous a personnel change or legislative attempt may be, he was unlikely to be held accountable for it.”
“There was no subject he considered beyond his expertise. Criminal justice reform. Middle East peace. The southern and northern borders. Veterans and opioids. Big Tech and small business,” she writes. “If Martian attacks had come across the radar, he would have happily added them to his ever-bulging portfolio. He’d have made sure you knew he’d exiled the Martians to Uranus and insisted he did not care who got credit for it. He misread the Constitution in one crucial respect, thinking that all power not given to the federal government was reserved to him.”
As an example of what she calls Kushner’s “schemes and dreams,” she later in the book recounts a scuttled immigration rollout plan in which Kushner suggested Trump “go to Ellis Island, where he’d stand at the foot of the State of Liberty to lead a naturalization ceremony.”
Conway says that her tension with Kushner came, in part, because he accused her of leaking to the media as a way to undermine her credibility with Trump — a charge she denies.
A Kushner ally said his portfolio included some of the administration’s biggest successes: a criminal justice reform bill, the USMCA trade deal, the Abraham Accords in the Middle East and the Operation Warp Speed coronavirus vaccine effort.
Conway also takes fleeting aim at Paul Manafort, the short-lived chair of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Manafort, she writes, “literally fell asleep during my PowerPoint on how to close the gender gap with Hillary. (He must have been on Ukraine time.).”
And Conway describes Reince Priebus, the former chair of the Republican National Committee who served as Trump’s first chief of staff, as “thoroughly conservative but not remotely MAGA,” a reference to Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan.
Conway depicts Priebus as fundamentally not understanding the Trump movement; when Conway pressed a skeptical Priebus to allow a number of administration officials to address CPAC, the annual conservative gathering, he told her, “That’s because you love the crazies, Kellyanne, and they love you,” she writes.
Priebus had spoken at CPAC almost every year since becoming the RNC chair, including in 2017, when he and Bannon addressed the gathering together. Priebus declined to comment.
She also pulls no punches against much of the Trump White House’s team of coronavirus experts — particularly Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases — whom she depicts as slow to comprehend the magnitude of the virus in its early days, as well as donning masks in public but not always in private.
“No masks was standard fare in the White House Situation Room, where Dr. Fauci was more likely to wear ‘Dr. Fauci’ socks than a mask,” she writes. “Then, like magic, when D. Myles Cullen, the vice president’s photographer, came into the room, masks would suddenly appear.”
Fauci did not respond to a request for comment.
The book also offers a more personal side of Conway, as well as her relationship with Trump. She writes of growing up in an Italian Catholic female household, after her father left, when she was 3, without providing no child support or alimony.
“I’d be raised by strong women,” she writes, explaining her reaction when Kushner, Priebus and Stephen K. Bannon, a former top Trump adviser, offered a chilly reception upon learning Trump had asked her to join his administration as counselor to the president. “For as long as I could remember, I’d been manhandling jealous little boys.”
Later in the book — in a section on Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation hearings, and without delving into the specifics — Conway also shares that, “unbeknownst to the public,” she was “a victim of sexual assault.”
Trump has been accused of sexual assault and misconduct by more than a dozen women. During his 2016 campaign, an “Access Hollywood” video emerged of him boasting about groping women against their will.
Conway, however, depicts Trump as a feminist who repeatedly supported and promoted her, allowing her to make history as the first women to manage a winning presidential campaign.
“Donald Trump had elevated and empowered me to the top of his campaign, helping me crack glass ceilings that had never even been dinged before,” she writes, adding that “angry feminists” should “have at least once in their lives a ‘girl boss’ as generous, respectful, engaging, and empowering as Donald Trump was to me and my other female colleagues.”
Themes of family and motherhood also run through the book, with Conway writing about coming up as a woman in a male-dominated industry and — with chapters like “Cheerful Chaos,” “Kid Power” and “Mom Guilt” — both the joys and challenges of being a working parent and a working mom, in particular.
Nevertheless, Conway manages to ascend to the White House with Trump. And in the spring of 2020, Conway recalls sitting in the Oval Office with Trump, who muses that without Twitter, he would not have been elected: “True enough, but as I reminded him, with respect to social media, ‘Make sure it doesn’t get you unelected.’ ”
Later, after he had lost his reelection bid, Conway observes, “Trump was more shocked to lose in 2020, I think than he was to win in 2016.”
In the waning days of his presidency, Conway also writes that, during a discussion with Trump on pardons and clemency, he turned to her and asked, “Do you want one?”
“Do you know something I don’t?” Kellyanne asked Trump, she writes. “Why would I need a pardon?”
“Because they go after everyone, honey. It doesn’t matter,” Trump replied, according to the book.
“I politically declined,” she concludes.
Some of the rawest material in her book deals with her marriage, which became a source of inside-the-Beltway fascination — and media coverage — as George Conway ramped up his Twitter attacks on his wife’s boss.
Kellyanne Conway devotes portions early in her book to her husband’s romantic courtship of her, as well as his full support of her taking on the role of Trump’s campaign manager and even of Trump himself. Which made her all the more confused, she says, when he began criticizing Trump publicly.
“For the first time since George and I had gotten serious, I was looking at the possibility that the man who had always had my back might one day stab me in it,” she writes.
As George’s tweeting ramps up, Conway writes that she “didn’t want to be stuck in a cable news segment in the master bedroom,” and the growing reality that she had “two men” in her life.
“One was my husband. One was my boss, who happened to be president of the United States,” she writes. “One of those men was defending me. And it wasn’t George Conway. It was Donald Trump.”
In the Afterword, Conway describes vying with Twitter for her husband’s time and attention and asks, “And why would I even try?,” she wrote, equating Twitter with another woman. “She has no personality and she’s not even hot.”
She ends the book on an optimistic note — except, perhaps, for her marriage.
“Democracy will survive. America will survive,” she writes. “George and I may not survive.”