Life with Kellyanne and George
She’s a Trump loyalist. He thinks Trump is a threat to democracy. Journalist Ben Terris asks the Conways the question that has consumed Washington gossip: What’s up with that?
Kellyanne Conway is in her living room, showing me an enormous painting of Audrey Hepburn wearing a peacock on her head, but her husband, George, really wants us to come into his office and look at a photograph of the moment everything changed.
It’s a picture he took on election night 2016: Donald Trump is reaching for the first draft of his acceptance speech, just as victory seems imminent. Back then, George was such an ardent supporter of the president, and so proud of his wife for her historic role as campaign manager, that he wept for joy.
“That photo was from before you cried,” Kellyanne says.
“Now I cry for other reasons,” George mutters.
Kellyanne pretends to ignore that comment, something she’s been doing a lot of lately.
“You gotta see this picture,” George, 54, says. “You should like this—it’s your boss.”
“He’s not just my boss,” Kellyanne, 51, says. “He’s our president.”
“Yeah,” George says, walking out of the room. “We’ll see how long that lasts.”
Here at the Conways’, it’s a house divided. She is Trump’s loyal adviser, the woman who carried him over the finish line to the White House. He is one of the president’s most notable conservative critics and wishes he had never introduced his wife to Trump in the first place.
And their feud, thanks to George’s newfound Twitter hobby, is playing out for more than just the neighbors to see.
When the president was in search of a new communications director last year, George tweeted it was “absurd” that the president so often says one thing and then does the opposite. In addition to various tweets about corgis and the Philadelphia Eagles, he has retweeted dozens of articles critical of the president and his administration, and he penned a 3,473-word essay rebutting Trump’s assertion that special counsel Robert Mueller III’s Russia investigation was “unconstitutional.”
Because George is married to Kellyanne, the chief architect and top saleswoman for Trumpism, and because his dissent seemed to come out of nowhere, George went viral. His retweets were themselves retweeted and topped with bug-eyed emoji. His follower count soared to more than 90,000, and the Left adopted this conservative super lawyer as an honorary member of the resistance.
And yet, anyone wondering how Kellyanne and George manage to live in the same place these days should really see the house.
The $7.7 million Mediterranean revivalist, with its terra-cotta roof and three-story turret, looks like a mini Mar-a-Lago. Clocking in at 15,000 square feet, it gives the Conways room for their four children, two corgis, and art collection, with plenty of space left over for the kind of dinner parties typical in this tony neighborhood off Embassy Row.
Inside, Kellyanne, who is shorter than she appears on television, scrambles up the staircase barefoot to put on workout clothes. George, a stocky man with a mop of dark hair (“He looks Hawaiian,” as Kellyanne puts it), retires to his office.
“George, we’re going for a walk,” Kellyanne, now wearing sneakers and her hair in a ponytail, shouts.
George never comes on these walks.
In fairness to George, Kellyanne is difficult to keep up with.
We’re in the woods, chugging up a steep incline. We’re in Georgetown going on and off the sidewalk, and on and off the record. We’re in Tenleytown, weaving through the sideways glances of lookie-loos, then power-walking through Glover Park.
It’s a swampy August night, but Kellyanne doesn’t have a drop of sweat on her.
And she talks, about any and everything: issues with her father (he left when she was 3), feminists (the funny thing, she says, is she’s living the life they claim to want), and her thoughts on the administration’s practice, since reversed, of having federal agents separate migrant families at the border (she didn’t like it, she says, but that wasn’t the president’s fault).
“If you make this story all about him, I’ll definitely push back on that after it’s printed,” Kellyanne says, talking about George. “There’s no story about me, except the overcoming of circumstance and the fact that I’m so independent.”
Kellyanne remembers how encouraging George was of that independence when they first got married 17 years ago. Back then, Kellyanne was just finding her footing as a sought-after pollster in Washington. She remembers one of George’s friends telling him that the best thing for their marriage would be for her to shut down her business—the company she built from scratch—and how George, even though he made enough money himself to support the family, encouraged her to keep working toward her own dream.
“I feel there’s a part of him that thinks I chose Donald Trump over him,” Kellyanne says as we walk. “Which is ridiculous. One is my work and one is my marriage.”
Naturally, though, the two things overlap. When George criticizes the president publicly, Kellyanne says, the media coverage and the implication that they are pitted against each other bothers their children. And as for the president himself, Kellyanne won’t say it irks him, but she does think he finds it “impolite.” On that, she’d agree.
“I think it’s disrespectful,” she says. “I think it disrespects his wife.”
Kellyanne is an independent woman, an independent woman stuck between two men who could blow up her day with a tweet.
“Nobody knows who I am because of my husband,” she says. “People know of my husband because of me.”
After our 6-mile journey, it is late when we get back to their house. George is in his office, eating a bowl of cereal and yawning. He’s too tired for an interview at the moment, he says. He’s never done an interview on his thoughts on Trump, preferring to let the tweets speak for themselves.
Two hours after I leave, he’s awake and online. A tweet from Merriam-Webster has caught his eye, and he presses the retweet button:
Merriam-Webster: ‘Mendacious’ (adj.)—likely to tell lies
‘Mendacity’ (n.)—a lack of honesty or a lie
There’s a theory among D.C. Trumpologists that this is all a charade. A way for the Conways to be part of both the Trump White House and the Trump-leery establishment. They live in a part of the city where wealth and influence serve as a cooling balm for the partisan inflammation that has spread elsewhere. In their neighborhood, everybody—Democrat and Republican—belongs to the garden party. Here, a husband subtweeting his wife’s boss may seem less an act of moral courage than a juicy gossip item, or possibly a way for the family to hedge its bets.
It’s three days after the house tour, and we’re in Ventnor City, N.J., just a boardwalk away from Atlantic City, at George and Kellyanne’s beach house.
Kellyanne bought this house back in the late ’90s, when she was single and just starting to make good money. She picked this spot because it felt like home; her mother had been employed at a casino nearby for more than 20 years and still lives in the house where she raised Kellyanne less than an hour away. The beach house also happens to be right down the road from Trump’s old Taj Mahal resort and casino.
“It was wildly popular,” says Kellyanne.
“It went bankrupt twice,” says George.
George isn’t from around here. He grew up in Massachusetts, a contrarian since, as a child, he decided to root for the Yankees instead of the Red Sox. By the time he was 30 he was a hotshot lawyer, a partner at a big-time law firm in New York City. While there, George fell into a clutch of Republicans secretly working behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for Bill Clinton’s impeachment. It wasn’t his day job, just a hobby, but one that got him a lot of attention. One of his friends from that time, Ann Coulter, introduced him to Kellyanne.
Kellyanne Conway on the 2016 campaign trail
George would, in turn, introduce Kellyanne to Donald Trump.
Shortly after getting married in 2001, Kellyanne and George moved into an apartment in Manhattan’s Trump World Tower. There, George made an impression on the future president at a condo board meeting where he argued against removing Trump’s name from the building. The speech earned George an offer to join the condo board, which he declined but passed on to his wife, who accepted.
“Knowing what I know now,” George told me later, back in Washington, “I would have said no, and never mentioned it when I got home.”
Nevertheless, George liked Trump well enough for a time that he considered joining his administration, with a top role in the Justice Department. But his pre-nomination process coincided with Trump firing FBI Director James Comey, and the beginning of the Mueller investigation.
Instead, George immersed himself in the small fraternity of anti-Trump conservatives. He is now a man without a party: In early May of this year, George changed his affiliation from Republican to “unaffiliated.” He has, according to Politico.com, offered unsolicited advice to journalists who have written articles critical of the president. And recently, he has been spotted at a semisecret group of Trump skeptics known as the Meeting of the Concerned, eviscerating his wife’s boss among fellow conservatives who would like to see Trump, and by extension Kellyanne, out of a job.
If he’s being honest, that would make George happy too.
“If my wife were the counselor to the CEO of Pepsi and I had a problem with her boss, I would simply drink my Coke and keep my mouth shut,” he says. “If the president were simply mediocre or even bad, I’d have nothing to say. This is much different.”
George is clearly worried about Kellyanne and her reputation, just as Kellyanne told me she is worried about George’s. But that doesn’t mean everything has changed. He’s still proud of what she’s been able to accomplish, he says. And when he looks at that picture from election night, he’s still reminded of the sheer elation he felt.
“I’m just saddened by how things turned out,” he says.
On their last full day together at the beach, George is in the kitchen with his wife by his side.
Tomorrow this house will be set up for Face the Nation, after which Kellyanne will be swarmed on the street by fans while George watches the second half of the show—the part where pundits analyze his wife’s interview—alone in the kitchen. But for now, things feel almost like they used to be. This is what George misses at times, his simpler life.
He starts to open up about his tweets. Kellyanne is cutting vegetables 10 feet away with a longtime friend. The women start singing “The Glory of Love,” a central song in the weepy movie Beaches, which also took place on the Jersey Shore and is about two childhood best friends.
“It’s an outlet—that keeps it a small part of my life,” George says of his tweeting.
You’ve got to win a little / Lose a little / And always have the blues a little.
“It’s a quick easy way to express myself, that keeps me from making it a bigger part of my life,” he says.
You’ve got to give a little / Take a little / And let your poor heart break a little.
“I think I’m actually holding back a little,” he says. “I think the reason why is obvious.”
Kellyanne is now singing loudly into a cucumber, completely drowning out George, who has stopped talking and just looks on.
That’s the story of / That’s the glory of love.
Excerpted from an article that originally appeared in The Washington Post. Reprinted with permission. ■