On social unrest, White House's Kellyanne Conway gives away the game

Even for a White House known for saying the quiet part loud, yesterday offered an extraordinary example of the phenomenon.
Image: Kellyanne Conway speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway has dismissed concerns that she has violated a federal law banning government employees from engaging in certain political activity.Kevin Lamarque / Reuters file
By Steve Benen

Even for a White House known for saying the quiet part loud, yesterday offered an extraordinary example of the phenomenon.

Kellyanne Conway, President Trump's departing counselor, said on Thursday that Mr. Trump stood to benefit politically from the kind of unrest that erupted this week in Kenosha, Wis., after the police shooting of an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake. "The more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence reigns, the better it is for the very clear choice on who's best on public safety and law and order," Ms. Conway said on "Fox & Friends."

For now, let's put aside the fact that there's literally no reason to believe Donald Trump enjoys some kind of electoral advantage on "law and order." On the contrary, the president has faced several credible accusations of illegal misconduct since taking office, and he's repeatedly twisted federal law enforcement in indefensibly politicized ways.

Instead, let's focus on Conway's political analysis, and the degree to which this is an example of a Michael Kinsley Moment, which occurs when political figures make a mistake by accidentally saying what they genuinely believe.

There have been a heartbreaking number of incidents -- not just this year, but over the course of too many years -- in which communities of color have suffered at the hands of law enforcement. The result has been protests, backlashes, and at times, social unrest.

Those in positions of political power have a variety of legitimate reactions. They can express sympathy for victims. They can demand justice for those who've abused their authority. They can explore systemic reforms in the hopes of making these incidents far less common.

What they should not do is focus on the possible electoral benefits of societal violence.

And yet, there was Kellyanne Conway, giving away the game on national television. For Conway, whose reputation for brazen dishonesty in service of Donald Trump is well deserved, it was a striking moment in which she appeared to slip up and tell what she perceived as the truth.

The New Yorker's Jane Mayer called it a "devastating admission," which it surely was. It was also a peek behind the curtain at the White House, where unrest apparently isn't seen as a problem to be addressed, but as a political boon to be exploited.

Joe Biden spoke to MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell yesterday, and said in reference to Trump, "He views this as a political benefit to him. You know, he's rooting for more violence, not less, and is clear about that."

Ordinarily, this might seem brutally unfair, but the former vice president's rhetoric was easily justified by what Conway had said just hours earlier.

Complicating matters, of course, is the system of incentives this creates for Trump and his team. If the president and his political operation are convinced that "more chaos and anarchy and vandalism and violence" will benefit Trump ahead of the election, what exactly should Americans expect from the White House with polls showing the president trailing?

What's the likelihood that the administration will make meaningful efforts to prevent these crises -- or try to address them in responsible ways -- if Team Trump perceives them as inherently advantageous?