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Kellyanne and George Conway: The marriage that bridges the divide

By Tara McKelvey
BBC News, Washington

image copyrightReuters
image captionKellyanne and George Conway on the eve on Donald Trump's inauguration

Kellyanne Conway works for Trump. Her husband, George, rips into him publicly. Their conflicting views on the president reflect a political divide in the US. But they're not the only couples who see the world differently - and perhaps that's good for all of us.

The night I met the Conways, they looked so happy. She wore a red gown, and her husband held her fur coat. Heading into a candlelight dinner in January 2017, Kellyanne, who served as Mr Trump's campaign manager, said she had chosen her White House office, a place with "great karma". Her husband, George, stood back, smiling.

Since then Mr Conway has publicly disparaged the president, describing him as "incompetent". Mr Trump, for his part, has called Mr Conway a "stone cold LOSER" and said that he turned down Mr Conway, a conservative lawyer, for a job in the US justice department.

Mrs Conway, an adviser to Mr Trump, defends her boss, and she also rallies for her husband. She said on Fox News Sunday that her husband withdrew his name from consideration for the position in the justice department.

Heading into the 2020 election campaign, she remains caught between her boss and her husband.

The Conway marriage has become a symbol of the way that people are divided over the White House and the future of the country. It is an inkblot for the Trump presidency - how you see the Conways reveals more about you than it does about them.

Many Republicans dislike Mr Trump but they support a conservative agenda. They have sympathy for the Conways, who are both conservatives, and are rooting for their marriage, which reflects the discord within the Republican Party.

Mrs Conway's former boss, Robert Prunetti, who used to serve as Mercer County executive in New Jersey, says he hopes she and her husband will overcome their differences: "They seem to make a good team."

image copyrightANGELA WEISS
image captionRosario Dawson has switched support from Bernie Sanders to her boyfriend Cory Booker

The divisions within the Conway marriage captures the quarrelsome mood of the country these days and also shows the explosive nature of politics in the US.

"The Kellyanne and George story intersects with one of the great American divides - either you love Trump or you hate him," says Gil Troy, an historian at McGill University in Montreal who writes about US political marriages.

Yet despite the immense pressure on their marriage from the president and others, the Conways are still together. In their case, the personal has become political, and for some people their ability to work out their differences is inspiring.

John Avlon, an anchor at CNN, is himself part of a politically divided couple. He is an independent, and his wife, Margaret Hoover, a host of PBS' Firing Line, is a conservative.

He says that he is glad that the Conways have stayed together: "I do think that sends a powerful message in the radius of our own lives - that we don't need to be hopelessly divided."

image copyrightRiccardo S. Savi
image captionJohn Avlon, shown with his wife, Margaret Hoover, says he is rooting for the Conways

The Conways attract attention because of their outspoken and contrarian views about the president. They also reflect the dynamic of a larger, emotionally charged debate about politics in the US.

They are part of a long line of feuding couples who are in the spotlight: whether here or abroad, people watch them closely to see how they fare.

In the case of Cory Booker, a New Jersey senator and a Democratic presidential candidate, and actress Rosario Dawson, who are dating, a potential conflict has been averted.

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She supported his rival for the party's nomination, Bernie Sanders, during the last campaign. Now, according to Politico, she supports Booker.

For years, Mary Matalin, a Republican who eventually became a libertarian, and James Carville, a Democratic strategist, co-hosted CNN's Crossfire.

In addition, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, a liberal, and her co-host, Joe Scarborough, who used to be a Republican congressman, manage to work things out.

image copyrightErika Goldring
image captionMary Matalin and James Carville feuded publicly and became a popular couple

Political division also meant divorce for another couple, the Mitchells. John Mitchell was the US attorney general under President Nixon, and his wife, Martha, said publicly that she thought Nixon should resign.

The Conways have their differences, but they also have a lot in common. They were married in 2001 and have four children. Mr Conway told a reporter that he denounces the president on social media as a way to vent.

This way, Mr Conway said: "I don't end up getting in arguments at home."

image copyrightDavid Hume Kennerly
image captionJohn Mitchell, Nixon's attorney general, and his wife, Martha, had serious disagreements

Mrs Conway makes jokes about domestic strife when she is at parties. Yet she also makes it clear that she is committed to her husband.

Political conflict is hardly unique to famous families. In one-third of married couples in the US, according to a data-driven website, FiveThirtyEight, one is a Democrat and the other Republican.

Being part of a politically mixed marriage has gotten harder, according to a political-science professor, Lynn Vavreck, at the University of California, Los Angeles. The number of Republicans who do not want a family member to marry a Democrat - and the other way around - has gone up in recent years.

image copyrightPress Association
image captionIn the UK, Speaker of the House John Bercow and his wife, Sally, support different parties

It has become harder to be around someone who sees things differently.

The Conways both have strong political views, and they disagree in a public way. For some, their marriage offers hope for the nation.

"It becomes a symbol of our ability to get along and not make everything Fox versus MSNBC," says McGill University's Gil Troy.

Belinda Luscombe, a Time magazine journalist and the author of Marriageology: The Art and Science of Staying Together, agrees - part of us is willing them to stay strong.

"You may not agree with their politics, but there's something about two people who choose to stick together under incredible pressure," she says.

"It's like seeing someone wade across a deep river. You're like: 'Yes!'"

Related Topics

  • White House
  • US politics
  • Kellyanne Conway