Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, right, and press secretary Hope Hicks watch during a campaign rally on Oct. 14, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C.
Photo by Evan Vucci/AP

Why did Kellyanne Conway ask a reporter, ‘What’s your ethnicity?’

Updated

Kellyanne Conway’s exact responsibilities in the White House have never been altogether clear to me, though she’s generally referred to as the White House “counselor” – as in, someone who counsels the president on matters of importance.

In practice, however, we tend to see Conway – a Republican pollster who served as Donald Trump’s third campaign manager from the 2016 cycle – as a spokesperson for the president, making frequent media appearances defending Trump and putting a positive spin on his many scandals and controversies.

And as a rule, I try to be sympathetic. Defending the indefensible isn’t easy, and I imagine there are some days Conway shows up at the White House wondering how in the world she’ll push back against the latest criticisms of her boss’ ridiculous antics.

With this in mind, Conway’s job yesterday was to help present a defense after Trump used racist language against four congresswomen of color, which for some reason, led her to ask a reporter about his ethnic heritage at a White House Q&A.

Andrew Feinberg, a White House reporter for Breakfast Media, a website about politics and technology, asked Conway, “If the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?”

Conway paused and then asked him, “What’s your ethnicity?”

“Why is that relevant?” Feinberg replied.

That was an appropriate response, and Feinberg soon after added, “My own ethnicity is not relevant to the question I’m asking.”

The fact that Feinberg is Jewish raised additional questions about the propriety of Conway asking about his heritage for no apparent reason.

The exchange seemed a bit intense, and Conway quickly shifted gears, returning to the White House’s larger strategy of questioning the patriotism of the congresswomen of color Trump targeted.

Left unanswered, however, was why in the world Conway asked about a reporter’s ethnicity in the first place.

She tried to answer the question via Twitter, writing yesterday afternoon, “This was meant with no disrespect. We are all from somewhere else ‘originally.’ I asked the question to answer the question and volunteered my own ethnicity: Italian and Irish. Like many, I am proud of my ethnicity, love the USA & grateful to God to be an American.”

But the original question was, “If the president was not telling these four congresswomen to return to their supposed countries of origin, to which countries was he referring?”

No one at the White House has answered this – perhaps because there is no answer that doesn’t make Trump look worse.