One of Donald Trump’s most steadfast aides acknowledges in a new book that the president lost the 2020 election and says he was ill-advised by campaign staff and the election deniers who surrounded him.
“Despite the mountains of money Trump had raised, his team simply failed to get the job done. A job that was doable and had a clear path, if followed,” Kellyanne Conway writes in her memoir, “Here’s the Deal.” “Rather than accepting responsibility for the loss, they played along and lent full-throated encouragement (privately, not on TV) when Trump kept insisting he won.”
“The team had failed on November 3, and they failed again afterward. By not confronting the candidate with the grim reality of his situation, that the proof had not surfaced to support the claims, they denied him the evidence he sought and the respect he was due. Instead supplicant after sycophant after showman genuflected in front of the Resolute Desk and promised the president goods they could not deliver.”
A Trump loyalist since taking over the reins of his 2016 presidential election and serving as his counselor in the White House, Conway’s admission of the ex-president’s electoral defeat is particularly notable, even if it amounts to stating out loud a well-established fact.
Other top Trump aides have acknowledged the same in their books, including former Attorney General Bill Barr and Defense Secretary Mark Esper. But those were written by disaffected Trumpers who have since warned about the perils of Trump running for office again. Conway is still in Trump’s inner orbit and would be on the shortlist of individuals poised to advise a future presidential campaign, should Trump choose to run again. She also continues to speak regularly with Trump and is commonly spotted at Mar-a-Lago.
Her acknowledgment of a Trump “loss” appears to be one of, if not the, most upfront admission about the 2020 election that she’s made in public to date. In a December 2020 interview with The 19th, Conway said that even though the Trump campaign had every right to explore different legal avenues to challenge the results, the Electoral College vote tally suggested Joe Biden and Kamala Harris would win.
In her book, she writes she told Trump the same.
“Stuck in a parallel universe, many Trump supporters deluded themselves into thinking that somehow the president would remain in office or be reinstated once gone. Trump was more shocked to lose in 2020, I think, than he was to win in 2016,” Conway writes, although she adds that questioning the election results or “partisan activists” doesn’t make you the “QAnon Shaman.”
“I may have been the first person Donald Trump trusted in his inner circle who told him that he had come up short this time,” Conway writes.
Though hardly an unbiased narrator, Conway writes a book that is part biography, part dishy political tell-all, part heartfelt reflection on motherhood, and part marriage therapy session. She also provides a behind-the-scenes look at the Trump White House during some of its most tumultuous moments.
Throughout its 506 pages, she is quick to level sharp critiques at some of her former colleagues, like Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner (“He misread the Constitution in one crucial respect, thinking that all power not given to the federal government was reserved to him.”), Trump’s 6-foot-9-inch tall campaign manager Brad Parscale (“It is easy to conclude with Brad, height is not depth.”), or former chief of staff Mark Meadows (“trying to be POTUS’s BFF”).
But she also notes, in passing, that she found allies in unexpected places. For example, Conway says that after the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, she consulted with two “trusted, wired, smart accquaintances,” Democratic commentator Van Jones and former Democratic National Chair Donna Brazile, both Black, about the moment.
Conway is known for her occasional sharp elbows and unrelenting capacity to spin, and her book is full of trademark sarcasm and barbs, especially when it comes to the press and the never-ending quest at the Trump White House to find internal leakers. But Conway does write with evident pain about her own family dramas that spilled out into the public, like her husband George Conway’s spats with Trump, and her teen daughter Claudia’s rebellion on TikTok.
She rarely criticizes Trump himself, though does cop to regrets about steps taken, especially around the Covid-19 pandemic. In one passage, she recalls proposing in the Oval Office that Trump deliver a message to the public with former presidents George W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
“Looking at Trump across the Resolute Desk, I could picture all five presidents standing there, lending their support to him as he tackled this ‘once in a century’ pandemic,” writes Conway. “He declined.”
After Trump left office, all living former presidents, save him, ended up producing a public service announcement pushing the Covid vaccine. Trump’s aides insisted he was not asked to do so.
Conway also writes that inviting Scott Atlas — the radiologist and political commentator who became one of Trump’s top Covid advisers — into the White House allowed the president to “pick the science he wanted.” She contends that Trump should have followed the example of some of his staffers and his wife, Melania Trump, in wearing a mask, noting that one of the few times he encouraged people to do so on Twitter, it received a massive response.
“The president could have ignored those who were telling him that wearing a mask ‘is like Dukakis with the helmet in the tank,’” Conway writes, referencing the photo of Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis wearing a helmet while visiting a defense contracting facility. The goofy photo-op helped tank his campaign.
Conway also writes about Trump’s infamous trip to the press briefing room, when he suggested out loud that disinfectants could help cure Covid infections in the body.
“It was an unfortunate briefing and an unforced error. Legitimate concerns emerged that some Trump followers might try what they thought he was suggesting, at genuine risk to their lives. This was just a month after the president had recorded his highest overall approval rating,” writes Conway. “Now, instead of an incumbent president appearing in command and control of the COVID challenge, the nation was drowning in bleach stories about an unfortunate and unconscionable comment from the President of the United States.”
In the end though, Conway remains largely the loyalist in her book, rarely blaming Trump directly for the missteps he made in favor of arguing that he was let down by dimwitted or opportunistic aides around him. Reflecting on the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6, she recounts calling an anonymous aide to give Trump an urgent message that he “must tell the people at the Capitol to stop.” It was, she said, part of her larger questioning of the Stop the Steal efforts. But, she suggested, the money was just too good.
“The Trump campaign raised $200 million after November 3 to prove the election had been stolen,” Conway writes. “A smooth transition and a focus on the president’s legacy would have served him and the country better.”