Where Does Claudia Conway Go From Here?
Just when we thought the “What the hell is going on?” energy of 2020 couldn’t get stronger, we learned that President Trump, along with several other staffers and White House associates, had contracted COVID-19 at what might have been a "super-spreader" event announcing the nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett. Since Thursday, the media has had to speculate and extrapolate about Trump’s health from increasingly bizarre tweets and statements that appear to downplay and spin his diagnosis.
With so little information, it’s little wonder that, once again, Claudia Conway's TikToks are riveting the internet. Claudia was the first to reveal that her mother, former Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway, also tested positive for Covid.
Though Kellyanne has stepped down from her official role in the Trump administration, Claudia’s proximity to power has lead people to give her TikToks a lot of weight, with people comparing her to Woodward an Bernstein, the Washington Post journalists who exposed the Watergate scandal.
claudia conway could break the watergate scandal but woodward and bernstein couldn't figure out tiktok— Helen Holmes (@helenbholmes) October 5, 2020
Meanwhile, the right is claiming that liberals are exploiting Claudia, who turns 16 later this month. Kellyanne herself tweeted early Tuesday morning that, while her family has COVID-19, “it’s clear who’s really sick.”
My daughter, Claudia, is beautiful & brilliant. She has access to top doctors & health care & lives comfortably— Kellyanne Conway (@KellyannePolls) October 6, 2020
Like all of you, she speculates on social media
Yet she’s 15
You are adults
We have COVID, but it’s clear who’s really sick
It should be noted, of course, that the right has no problem going after teenagers they disagree with, like Greta Thunberg or Chelsea Clinton, who was a constant target for criticism as a young teen in the White House. You can make the argument that teens, whether they run afoul of the left or right, should be left alone. But, at this point, Claudia cannot be ignored. While there’s no reason to take her TikToks as the unimpeachable truth, her audience, and the fact that she announced Kellyanne’s diagnosis before the official media statement, makes her someone that we have to pay attention to.
But how we pay attention to her becomes a thornier question. It’s easy to make her into a left-wing folk hero, and many on Twitter, including celebrities, have done that.
You are a monster who has contributed to the lies which murdered hundreds of thousands of people. Claudia is a bright light of truth who has the courage to call out the lies you have sold your soul to sell. I wish her the best life. She is already doing great things. https://t.co/Kxis0uZA9y— Judd Apatow (@JuddApatow) October 6, 2020
But Claudia isn’t simply a brave whistleblower. She is, apparently, a child in distress. While she stated in an interview during which with her father, George Conway, was listening, that she loves her parents, at other times she has said she has been abused and wants to be emancipated. Fans, worried about her safety, even asked her to “take off her earrings if she feels unsafe,” which she has apparently done.
Even the most cynical reading of all this—that it’s all a ploy for attention—still raises worrying questions about Claudia’s well-being. There are certainly more apt comparisons to draw, and it’s not to Woodward and Bernstein.
Today, we largely associate Woodward and Bernstein with the press coverage that lead to Nixon’s resignation. But they were not the first to write about the break-in at the Democratic Party’s headquarters. Margaret Mitchell, the wife of Nixon’s attorney general, John N. Mitchell, was complaining to the press that there had been “dirty tricks” to get Nixon re-elected. Margaret, like Claudia, was press catnip: She gave great quotes (earning her the nickname “the mouth of the south”), and provided scoops on the Republican administration. She also received little in the way of thanks for her early role in exposing the break-in. Allegations that she was kidnapped after trying to contact the press (which were later proven to be true) were treated like a fanciful story. By the time Watergate blew up, Mitchell was largely forgotten, despite Nixon saying later that, "If it hadn't been for Martha Mitchell, there'd have been no Watergate."
There is also a connection to be drawn between Claudia and Monica Lewinsky, a woman who, like Mitchell, was obsessed over by the press until … she wasn’t. While Claudia has her champions now, it’s easy to wonder if she may suffer the same fate once Trump is out of office, or more traditional media stories crack open what is really happening in the White House.
Unlike Mitchell and Lewinsky, Claudia has something neither of them had at their disposal at the height of their fame: Her own line of communication to the public. Indeed, Monica Lewinksy’s return to the political conversation via Twitter shows hope for a future where those who otherwise would be discarded by the press can still have a voice and control their own narrative. It’s a sliver of hope in an otherwise bleak story of what happens to these imperfect women after the media no longer needs them. Claudia deserves better, and I hope she gets it.