Kayleigh McEnany the ‘acceptable’ face of Trumpism who infuriates liberals – The Guardian

It was a mic drop designed to thrill conservatives and infuriate liberals and the media.

Kayleigh McEnany, the latest White House press secretary aiming to become the acceptable face of Trumpism, had been asked if she wanted to take back a bold prediction in February that we will not see diseases like the coronavirus come here.

I guess I would turn the question back on the media, and ask similar questions, McEnany said on Wednesday. Consulting her briefing book, she reeled off a list of outlets and articles she said had downplayed the threat.

Ill leave you with those questions, she said, and maybe youll have some answers in a few days.

And with a triumphant smile she stepped away from the lectern, ignoring shouted questions. Reporters wore surprised and stony faces, then relaxed into wry smiles. It was a classic piece of whataboutism as practised by pundits on cable news.

The TV president now has a TV emissary, a spokesperson who sometimes takes her eyes off the reporters in the room and looks directly into the camera. McEnany is from what the president likes to call central casting: a polished performer, devout Christian and devout Trumpian. And she is only 32.

Kayleigh McEnany: beautiful, Christian, conservative designed by nature to enrage MSNBC viewers, tweeted Ann Coulter, a rightwing author and commentator, referring to the liberal-leaning network whose hosts often eviscerate the president.

Read or listen to her words prior to her decision to jump on the Trump train. She is a completely different person

But to critics, McEnany is a Trump apologist trying to explain the inexplicable and excuse the inexcusable. They characterise her as an opportunist motivated by fame and power rather than any ideological faith. They say she has abandoned her religious principles to normalise a president widely condemned as a misogynist and racist.

The eldest child of a roofing contractor, McEnany is from Plant City, Florida, which she describes as the worlds strawberry capital. She attended the Academy of the Holy Names Catholic high school in Tampa and found time to volunteer for the Bush-Cheney campaign in 2004. She moved to Washington to study at Georgetown, took an exchange year at Oxford to study politics and served an internship in the Bush White House.

After graduating in 2010, she worked for three years as a production assistant at Fox News for Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and father of Sarah Sanders, Trumps second press secretary. In 2012, she wrote a tweet about Barack Obama, the countrys first black president, that has come back to haunt her: How I Met Your Brother Never mind, forgot hes still in that hut in Kenya. #ObamaTVShows.

McEnany wanted a job in front of the camera but couldnt get a break. Eventually she decided to become a student again, first at the University of Miami School of Law, then transferring to Harvard. Huckabee told the New York Times last month: I think one of the reasons that Kayleigh went on to law school was because she didnt see she was going to have an on-air opportunity at Fox any time soon.

But in 2015, McEnany received some intriguing career advice over cocktails from Michael Marcantonio, a fellow summer associate at a law firm and a Democrat. In an interview with the New York Times, he recalled telling her Donald Trump is going to be your nominee, adding that if a smart, young, blond Harvard graduate wanted to get on television and have a career as a political pundit, you would be wise to be an early backer.

McEnany did so. Networks were struggling to find eloquent champions of the Trump cause but she fitted the bill. She became a paid contributor on CNN, feeding the outrage machine and the concept of cable news as combat sport.

A political commentator acquainted with McEnany, who did not wish to be named, said: They brought her on board when it became pretty clear that there were few people who were willing to defend Donald Trump that were somewhat sane. Most people who were credible and experienced were not willing to put their names or reputations on the line to defend Donald Trumps crazy during 2016.

In June 2015, McEnany had described Trumps comments about Mexican migrants as racist and dismissed him as a showman. She quickly changed her tune. The source said: She is unrecognisable. If you were to read or listen to her words prior to her decision to sell her soul and jump on the Trump train, she is a completely different person.

To Trump supporters, McEnanys ability to rile liberals made her something of a heroine. Even at the nadir of the Trump candidacy, when an Access Hollywood tape revealed him boasting about grabbing womens genitalia, she had his back, saying: Those comments are despicable [but] he apologised for them.

Sean Hannity, a Fox News host, wrote in a forward to McEnanys book, The New American Revolution: The Making of a Populist Movement: Outnumbered 8-to-1, or if she was lucky, 7-to-2, Kayleigh never backed down in fighting for the conservative movement supporting Donald Trump.

Jason Miller, who also appeared as a pro-Trump pundit on CNN and is now co-host of the podcast War Room: Pandemic, said: Keep in mind that she went through a couple of years of being a CNN political commentator where she was rumbling with Erin Burnett and Anderson Cooper and Chris Cuomo and Van Jones and Ana Navarro and every other hater thats out there.

So if Kayleigh can go toe to toe with the toughest anchors and commentators on TV, shell do just fine with the White House press corps.

Once Trump had stunned the world by winning the White House in 2016, McEnany joined the Republican National Committee as spokeswoman, then moved to the Trump campaign in a similar role. She would sometimes work 18 or 20 hours a day, according to Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for the Trump campaign.

Kayleigh was fantastic, he said. Shes smart, shes energetic, shes engaged and shes the most prepared person that I know. She has a keen grasp of policy and is able to turn what are sometimes complicated policy matters into language that is easily digested by the listener.

Murtaugh accused opponents of discriminating against McEnany because of her looks and gender.

The first thing the liberals want to do when they see an attractive young woman in a position like this is they want to question her intelligence. And I would just say to people, you underestimate Kayleigh McEnany at your own peril. I dont think that theyre turning out too many dummies from Oxford and Harvard Law School.

Murtaugh also recalled how McEnany organised a Bible study group with other staff that met weekly in a conference room at campaign HQ in Arlington, Virginia. Since the pandemic lockdown, the group has continued to meet virtually.

Like many evangelicals, McEnany apparently sees no contradiction between Trumps behaviour and Christian values. Two years ago, when she had a preventative double mastectomy because of a BRCA2 genetic mutation that had put her at high risk of breast cancer, she wrote: My faith in Jesus Christ was my strength that day.

I will never lie to you. You have my word on that

She is an ardent admirer of Ravi Zacharias, a preacher whose organisation included a study centre in Oxford. She wrote in 2013: Oxford needed a Christian to respond to Richard Dawkins. Found that in Ravi, who has dismantled atheism. This week her sister, Ryann, who also works for the Trump campaign, tweeted: Watching my sister take the stage for her first White House press briefing last Friday was a surreal moment! Gods spirit was ever-present in that room and undeniably flowing through you.

In 2017 McEnany married Sean Gilmartin, a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Rays. She posed with Blake, the couples five-month-old daughter, at the White House lectern after her debut briefing, the first by a press secretary in more than 13 months, where she declared: I will never lie to you. You have my word on that.

She now has three briefings under her belt. She has echoed Trumps false and misleading statements but avoided major controversy and, importantly, avoided stealing too much of his limelight.

Kurt Bardella, a political analyst and Trump critic who bested McEnany in a debate on gun control on MSNBC, said: Kayleigh is very on point, succinct, direct and speaks with a lot of confidence and comfort from the podium.

Like Conway, Bardella believes, McEnany saw a chance for career advancement and seized it.

Outside of the president, the White House press secretary traditionally is the most visible person in the administration. This is something that she will be able to live off of for the rest of her life.

I dont think that its diehard ideological alignment more than just an opportunity. Donald Trump is a person with no ideology or core conviction. This is someone whose core ideology is nothing more than whatever is transactional and advantageous to him at that moment in time.

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Kayleigh McEnany the 'acceptable' face of Trumpism who infuriates liberals - The Guardian

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