Kellyanne Conway Says Spouses Should Be Off-limits in Debate, but Trump Regularly Deploys Line of Attack

White House advisor Kellyanne Conway blasted CNN for dredging up her husband's criticism of President Donald Trump and suggested that it was inappropriate for spouses to be brought into political debates—despite Trump's public history of mocking the spouses of opponents.

During a Sunday appearance on CNN, host Dana Bash confronted Conway about husband George Conway's criticism of the Trump administration. Bash pointed to a tweet in which the prominent conservative lawyer slammed Trump's habit of "saying one thing" and doing "the opposite" as "absurd."

When Bash asked Conway "What is up" with those tweets, Conway kept her composure but appeared annoyed.

"It's fascinating to me that CNN would go there," Conway said. "But it's very good for the whole world to just witness that it's now fair people's spouses and significant others may differ with them. I'm really surprised, but very, in some ways, relieved and gratified to see that. That should really be fun."

Conway went on to blast the question as a sexist attempt meant to "harass" and "embarrass."

"You just brought him into this," a piqued Conway warned Bash. "This ought to be fun moving forward, Dana. We're now going to talk about other people's spouses and significant others just because they either work at the White House or CNN? CNN just went there," adding that it was a "cross the Rubicon" moment.

Conway's apparent disapproval of Bash's questioning is at odds with her boss' own campaign strategy. Throughout Trump's tenure in politics, he has routinely used family members and spouses as weapons to insult his critics and opponents.

For example, Trump attacked Heidi Cruz, the wife of Senator Ted Cruz, during the rancorous 2016 presidential campaign and floated the unfounded idea that Cruz's father was linked to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Trump also retweeted an unflattering composite image of Heidi Cruz and Melania Trump—an attack he claimed was in retaliation for the actions of Cruz supporters.

Conway likely remembers both of those attacks, having chaired a pro-Cruz political action committee before taking a job as a senior advisor and then campaign manager with the Trump campaign. According to Roll Call, her organization was behind three anti-Trump attack ads that were scheduled to run in Iowa and South Carolina during the primary campaign. Conway also spoke out as a commentator against Trump during that time, once dinging the blustery business mogul for slinging "personal insults."

"@Don_Vito_08: "A picture is worth a thousand words" @realDonaldTrump #LyingTed #NeverCruz @MELANIATRUMP"

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2016

The Cruz spat wasn't the only time Trump invoked the name of a spouse or family member to attack a political opponent. According to January report from NBC, an irate Trump called then-acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe to grill him on James Comey using an FBI plane after having been fired from the department. During a phone conversation, Trump allegedly suggested McCabe ask his wife Jill "how it feels to be a loser," referring to her failed 2015 bid for a seat in the Virginia legislature. The White House denied that account of the phone call.

"To have my personal reputation and integrity and those of my family attacked this way is beyond horrible. It feels awful every day. It keeps me up nights," Jill McCabe later wrote in an op-ed for The Washington Post. "I made the decision to run for office because I was trying to help people. Instead, it turned into something that was used to attack our family, my husband's career and the entire FBI."

During the primary campaign, Trump also suggested in a now-deleted retweet that Jeb Bush's proposed immigration policy was influenced by his Mexican-American wife. "@RobHeilbron: @realDonaldTrump #JebBush has to like the Mexican Illegals because of his wife," the retweet, captured by The Wrap, said.

And, of course, while competing against Hillary Clinton in the general election, Trump frequently invoked former president Bill Clinton's infidelity, culminating with a press conference moments before a presidential debate that featured a panel of women who allegedly had affairs with Bill Clinton or accused him of assault.

Since turning to team Trump, Conway's opinion appears to have changed. In an October speech at the conservative Family Research Council's annual Values Voters Summit, the advisor praised the work environment in the White House for "elevating" women in politics, calling it a "great untold story."

"[Trump is] very respectful of who we are personally, what our home life is like, whether we are married or not, have children or not," she said. "He is always interested in the personal story of everyone. He is a great storyteller himself."

Kellyanne Conway
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's repudiation of invoking spouses during political debates is at odds with Trump's track record. Mark Wilson/Getty Images)