The One Who Says “No”

I started following the writing of Salena Zito when I first heard her famous epigram regarding Donald Trump during the campaign:

The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally

I thought that this was one of the most insightful lines about the election. I’ve since seen her several times on TV, she’s very sharp. She’s also an old-fashioned reporter, going out and talking to people, not doing it by phone and online research and email.

As a result I was not surprised to see Ms. Zito’s long, detailed, and sage interview with one of my modern heroes. Everyone needs heroes in this world, people whose lives and actions you respect and look up to.

Now, the Donald is far from being one of my heroes. He’s like me, far too visibly flawed.  Who are my heroes? Nikolai Tesla. Ada Lovelace. Ernest Shackleton. In modern times? Dr. Bill Gray. Rosa Parks. Jerry Rice. My grandmother, the Captain’s Daughter. Dr. Ben Carson.

Anyhow, Ms. Zito interviewed another hero of mine. That would be the first woman to ever run a successful Presidential Campaign, Kellyanne Conway. I was glad to see the interview, because in my view she has not gotten the recognition that she deserves. I’d been happy when I read a couple weeks ago that she’d been appointed as Special Advisor to the President, and she would not be going back to private business.

I urge you to read Salena Zito’s whole piece, but I wanted to comment on a couple of parts. First, how Kellyanne Conway got the job:

“The worst day of the campaign was the day before I became the campaign manager. It was Aug. 11, it was a Thursday, and I went out on the road with Gov. Pence, who I adore, who has been a client and a friend of mine for 10 years,” she says.

Conway describes in detail a creeping malaise that filled the organization, and people wondering aloud, “Is it worth it? Can we win? What is going on? What are they meeting about? Why did he say that? Who is in charge?”

At the time, Manafort, Trump’s second campaign manager after Corey Lewandowski, reportedly didn’t get on with the candidate, and there was dark talk about political work he had done in Ukraine.

… The next day Conway was back in Trump Tower, helping with a video shoot in which Trump “was doing different commercials and appeals and videotaped messages to groups that were holding meetings that he could not attend.” They had been working on it for an hour or so and were about to leave for Pennsylvania when Trump asked everyone but her to leave the room.

After the others had gone, Conway asked Trump what was going on. “You are running against the most joyless person in presidential political history,” she told the candidate, “and you don’t look like you are having fun anymore.”

That is a brilliant insight. Nobody will follow someone who’s not enjoying what they’re doing. If it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t going to get done. She followed it with this:


Conway then gave Trump her thoughts about how he could win, and about the issues and messaging it would require.

“He already knew that. His instincts are excellent,” she says. “He had already built a movement, but he needed to have some people around him who create the right environment.

“So how did we leverage that into a campaign strategy? And, conversely, as I said to him on that first day, ‘Let’s see who Hillary Clinton is not, nor ever can be, and let’s try to do it and be it.’ “

Again, to me, that shows a profound understanding of the fight at hand. He needed to become the anti-Hillary, loose where she was tight, animated where she was scripted, aggressive where she was defensive, all of the things she wasn’t and couldn’t be.

In any case, Trump hired her to run his campaign right then and there. One thing everyone says about Trump is that he picks good people, and she certainly did a brilliant job. (In private life she has a law degree and four young children and a very successful polling firm hired by companies and politicians answering questions about social, business, and political trends).

Finally, and most revealing, is her description of her current role in the Administration.

Conway serves in a role that few people consider possible, let alone would want to take, and that is Trump’s “no man.” She believes every leader needs someone who can tell them when they have a bad idea and can stop it.kellyanne-conway-i

Great leaders, she says, always have someone in the room who can tell them “no,” and Conway says she does that, although others believe she sugarcoats things.

“It is actually the opposite. I think, because of our relationship and how much I respect him, that allows me to deliver a crisp message when I feel like it is in his best interest. You can do that respectfully, as long as it is accurate, smart and relevant.”

I give big props to two people in that. First, to Kellyanne Conway for being solid and smart and compassionate enough to be able to say “No” to the Donald and have him pay attention to her …

… and second, to Trump for being smart enough to know that every leader desperately needs someone around them who is totally free to speak truth to power. Trump is a canny old buzzard who has always surrounded himself with women in his business ventures. He prefers them, he’s said, because they’re tougher and more realistic than men … I can only agree.

I think the other unsaid reason is that Trump can bear a woman telling him “no” more easily than he can take a man telling him “no”. And now he’s in a funny situation. The woman in his life who usually has the job of telling him “no”, his daughter Ivanka, is going to be at a bit of a distance. So he needs Kellyanne Conway more than ever, and fortunately, he obviously knows it.

And I gotta say, if I were to nominate someone for the job, it would be her. Not only has she proven she can handle it, she deserves it for her accomplishments.

Anyhow, read Salena Zito’s piece, it’s a wonderful adventure in interview journalism.


20 thoughts on “The One Who Says “No”

  1. I’ve been impressed by her for years. She used to be a regular on various Fox News shows, but disappeared in recent years, presumably because she was busy running a business and raising kids — and probably also because there wasn’t a national election in progess. Glad to see her back in action where she can have a big impact.

    She always seems to have good insight on issues a lot of people seem to be concerned about. She was on Fox & Friends on Monday morning discussing the election and transition. Among many other things, she posed the following question to whiny Democrats: “What is the prize for winning ‘the popular vote’? Please tell me.” Very succinct.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. BTW, if you haven’t seen it, this hour-ish-long talk by Newt Gingrich discussing the Trump campaign and win is full of insight, some of which I suspect that Conway had something to do with. Specifically, Gingrich’s description of the team — where I think “the team” may be code for “Conway” — educating Trump about the importance of the Electoral College.


  3. I shudder to think what the outcome might have been had the Clinton slime campaign somehow convinced Conway to be for the loser what she was for the winner. But thinking it over, there was about as little room for a thinker and honest actor as Conway being on the on the Clinton team as there was the vast hole for the Huma Abedins and other parasites that watched it all go down in flames. Trump is smart enough to take a “no man”. Clinton, naturally, is not.


  4. Couldn’t agree more Willis. When I read Salena’s piece yesterday it occurred to me that Salena’ who has been writing positive pieces on Trump for months now likely got access to Kelly because she could be trusted to write a fair piece. And so she did and it appears Kelly was more open with her than certainly most other writers, Bottom line is – two very capable ladies.


      • Glad to be of service! It’s a three season miniseries by Aaron Sorkin which is available on DVD. It’s highly rated and I agree with that. It’s also highly political and based on real history. A Republican news anchor who feels free to criticize Republican politicians when they say stupid things. It starts with a Make America Great Again speech, pre-Trump, and it ends by singing That’s How I Got to Memphis. Great Entertainment in between. One of the fascinating sub-stories in one episode is about the EPA and CO2 going over 400. They get the expert on the show and he flat-out says everybody is going to die, real soon, and it’s too late to do anything about it, and there is no optimistic view, period. I suppose viewers can take that however they want, we are not told how to take it. It’s worth watching the whole series just to see that.


      • The simplest answer: “popcorn”. I would not wish you to waste your time, I can’t say what you will like or what you should like. I just say that this series is good drama, and that is an excuse enough to watch it. It’s not Romeo and Juliet, but it is well written and well played. It is good entertainment.

        It’s not where I would go for facts and rational arguments, especially in the small bit about global warming. I don’t know what the writer’s intention was here, to build up a news story that Obama doesn’t take the EPA seriously enough and underfunds it, with the journalist underlining every sentence in an EPA report, then having the anchor interview the report’s author on the news hour, only to find that he is an over-the-top alarmist… It’s interesting to see an expert make a fool of himself and weaken his cause by overstating it — in my opinion. Is that what the author meant, a subtle dig that believers wouldn’t notice? Beats me.


  5. Tooting my own horn, but also seconding Willis’s praise of Salena Zito’s article, I was also struck by how smartly Kellyanne Conway pulled The Trump up by his ears, and turned a three-ring circus into a genuine Presidential ‘whistle-stop’ campaign (only on an airplane). I wrote about it here on November 9th:

    BTW, Salena Zito turns up on John Bachelor’s excellent evening radio show (9 AM Eastern on WABC and some other stations) now and then.

    /Mr Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Slightly OT: from BBC: “The [Obama’s farewell] speech will aim to speak to everyone in America, including Trump supporters, White House officials said.” He will include even Trump supporters (49.8%). How gracious.


  7. “You are running against the most joyless person in presidential political history,” she told the candidate: a shrewd observation by Ms Conway.

    “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally” by Ms Zito is even better.

    If the slow attempted coup against Trump fails I suppose many of the plotters will have to be sent to prison. It’s sad that it’s come to this, but there we are. Trump may be an oaf but he won fair and square.


    • “Trump may be an oaf but he won fair and square.”
      Obama (like many glib politicians) is ideologically poetic to the point of happy tears. Unfortunately underneath the pretty words lies deceit, hypocrisy and empty rhetoric. I suspect that when he looks in a mirror that there is no image. Trump is nearly incapable of “fancy speak” but appears much more capable of actually being competent which is sorely needed in today’s government.


You are invited to add your comments. Please QUOTE THE EXACT WORDS YOU ARE DISCUSSING so we can all be clear on your subject.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s