Kellyanne Conway, a senior advisor to President-Elect Donald Trump, takes questions from the media at Trump Tower on Nov. 21, 2016 in New York, N.Y.
Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty

Conway: Look at Trump’s heart, not ‘what’s come out of his mouth’

Kellyanne Conway, who’ll soon become a senior advisor to the president in Donald Trump’s White House, came up with a brand new defense for her boss’ aversion to the truth: Americans should be prepare to look past “what’s come out of his mouth.”

The Huffington Post highlighted Conway’s appearance on CNN this morning, where Chris Cuomo pressed her on Trump lying about his mockery of journalist Serge Kovaleski and the reporter’s physical disability. It led to an amazing exchange:
…Cuomo called out Trump for mocking a disabled New York Times reporter during a 2015 rally. But Conway insisted that’s not what he was doing. “That is not what he did and he has said that 1,000 times,” she said Monday morning. “Why can’t you give him the benefit of the doubt?”

Cuomo shot back, “He can say it a million times but look at the video… he’s making a disgusting gesture on video.”

“Why is everything taken at face value?” she asked. “You can’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this and he’s telling you what was in his heart, you always want to go with what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”
It’s a remarkable approach to defending the indefensible, and it’s hard to imagine Conway seriously believing her own rhetoric. It’s the closest I’ve ever seen a political figure come to literally asking, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?”

As a rule, “the benefit of the doubt” is earned, not given. In this case, we have the video of Trump, who has a track record of jaw-dropping dishonesty, mocking a disabled reporter. For the president-elect and his team to say that didn’t happen, when we can all plainly see the evidence, is genuinely bizarre.

But it’s every bit as amazing to see Conway suggest we should all look past the words that come out of Trump’s mouth – because it’s “his heart” that matters.

For now, let’s look past what we know about Trump’s heart. Instead, let’s marvel at the prospect of a White House aide telling the public that what the incoming president actually says isn’t as important as what he thinks.

We talked about a month ago about the broader dynamic:

1. Donald Trump says a lot of things that aren’t true.

2. Trump’s allies, aides, and surrogates have a hard time defending the things he says that aren’t true.

3. They end up coming up with creative explanations in the hopes of rationalizing and/or justifying Trump’s penchant for brazen dishonesty.

To that end, one transition team member said in December that Americans should take Trump’s rhetoric “symbolically,” not literally. It was one of the more jarring examples, but there are others.

Corey Lewandowski, for example, said voters “understood that sometimes, when you have a conversation with people, whether it’s around the dinner table or at a bar, you’re going to say things, and sometimes you don’t have all the facts to back it up.” Pressed to explain Trump’s demonstrable lies, Reince Priebus added the president-elect “has pushed the envelope and caused people to think.”

Mike Pence said Americans should find it “refreshing” that Trump tells the public “what’s on his mind” – without much regard for telling the truth. A pro-Trump pundit argued recently that it doesn’t really matter if the president-elect brazenly lies because there’s “no such thing” as facts anymore.

I suppose the obvious follow-up question for Trump World is simple: how is the public to know the difference between fact and fiction when the incoming president speaks?