How Kellyanne Conway's husband became an issue for President Trump

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Updated 5:18 PM ET, Fri November 9, 2018

(CNN)On Friday morning, this exchange happened between President Donald Trump and the White House press corps:

Reporter: Is Kellyanne's [Conway's] husband's wrong?
Trump: Who?

Reporter: Kellyanne's husband wrote that the appointment was unconstitutional.

Trump: You mean Mr. Kellyanne Conway?

Reporter: He wrote that you're unconstitutionally appointing him. He is wrong?

Trump: He's just trying to get publicity for himself. Why don't you do this: Why don't you ask Kellyanne that question, all right? She might know him better than me. I really don't know the guy.
First, some context. Kellyanne Conway, in case you have spent the last few years on another planet, is a White House counselor to Trump. She is married to a man named George Conway, a well-known Washington lawyer and a finalist for the post of solicitor general in the early days of the Trump administration.

More importantly, Conway -- George, that is -- has emerged as one of the leading critics of President Trump. Conways preferred method of pushing back on Trump is via Twitter, but on Thursday night, Conway co-authored an op-ed in The New York Times in which he blasted Trump's decision to name Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, calling it "unconstitutional" because Whitaker has never been confirmed by the Senate.

Here's the key piece of the, uh, piece:

"We cannot tolerate such an evasion of the Constitution's very explicit, textually precise design. Senate confirmation exists for a simple, and good, reason. Constitutionally, Matthew Whitaker is a nobody. His job as Mr. Sessions's chief of staff did not require Senate confirmation. (Yes, he was confirmed as a federal prosecutor in Iowa, in 2004, but Mr. Trump can't cut and paste that old, lapsed confirmation to today.) For the president to install Mr. Whitaker as our chief law enforcement officer is to betray the entire structure of our charter document."

And because Donald Trump is Donald Trump, not only did he respond to Conway's provocation but did so by insulting him -- and referring to his critic by referring to him as "Mr. Kellyanne Conway." (Sidebar: Trump's put-downs are almost all tied to his men's-locker-room sensibility; to Trump, it should be embarrassing for Conway to have a wife who is more well-known/successful than him.")

While this is the first time Trump has engaged on the conundrum of one of his top advisers being married to one of his biggest Republican critics, it's far from the first time people have noticed that the whole thing is, well, weird.

Wrote The Washington Post's Ben Terris in an amazing profile of the Conway situation:

"The Conways, like the rest of the country, have been jolted by the Trump presidency. They love each other, are exasperated by each other, talk about each other behind each other's backs. They share a roof and live in different bunkers.

"This may be the story of any marriage — partners can drive each other crazy and still stay together for 50 years — but this marriage is, in many ways, emblematic of our national political predicament, particularly on the right."

Those bending over backward to give the Conways the benefit of the doubt compare their relationship to that of James Carville and Mary Matalin, the most famous political odd couple. But the comparison breaks down quickly. First off, Carville was a Democrat, Matalin was a Republican.

Both of the Conways are Republicans. George introduced his wife to Trump -- and, according to Terris, he wept tears of joy when Trump was elected President. Second, Carville never worked in the Clinton White House. Not only does Kellyanne Conway work in the White House but she is one of the most recognizable figures in Trump's administration.

Her high profile, coupled with George's increased and increasingly critical tweeting about Trump, have made for any number of awkward moments where husband and wife seem to be cheering (or razzing) from both the home and away stands.

That's particularly acute when it comes to the ongoing special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, being led by Robert Mueller. George Conway has been an outspoken defender of Mueller -- and has publicly chastised Trump for his criticism of the former FBI director.

When Trump suggested that the Mueller appointment was unconstitutional, Conway tweeted this: "It isn't very surprising to see the president tweet a meritless legal position, because, as a non-lawyer, he wouldn't know the difference between a good one and a bad one."

Kellyanne Conway, on the other hand, has been singing from the Trump playbook on the Mueller investigation. "This is just a witch hunt," Conway said in a July interview on Fox News Channel. "It's all a hoax."

As you can see, all of this was pretty damn awkward even before the President of the United States answered a question about the Conways. Of course, Trump has always been the looming presence in political Washington's most fascinating marriage. And that's according to none other than Kellyanne Conway.

"I feel there's a part of him that thinks I chose Donald Trump over him," Kellyanne told Terris of her husband. "Which is ridiculous. One is my work and one is my marriage."