The president-elect was already having a bad news cycle on Monday, taking Meryl Streep’s bait and once again pretending he didn’t mock disabled New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski during the campaign. But in addition to reviving one of his most egregious episodes of 2016, Trump put incoming presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway in the uncomfortable, if wholly familiar, position of having to mount a ludicrous defense of him on national television.
Sparring with CNN’s Chris Cuomo, Conway was incredulous that the host wouldn’t give her boss “the benefit of the doubt”—that Trump was mocking Kovaleski’s “groveling,” not the impaired movement of the reporter’s arms:
“Why don’t you believe him?” Conway asked. “Why is everything taken at face value?” She later added, “You always want to go by what’s come out of his mouth rather than look at what’s in his heart.”
Conway’s essential argument here is that Trump’s words shouldn’t be taken seriously, and that Americans should discern the good intentions he’s routinely proven to lack. It’s a version of the similarly untenable idea that the president of the United States should be taken “seriously but not literally,” which is at best insulting to citizens and at worst a national security threat.