The Kellyanne Effect
There is a lot of hydrogen peroxide talking about patriotism on CNN these days.
By “hydrogen peroxide” I mean young, blonde twenty-something women who have found careers for themselves in being the “girl next door” version of Trumped-up “conservatism” — if you can even call it conservatism these days. William F. Buckley is doing somersaults in his grave.
Fox News has been perfecting the blonde, fit female newscaster archetype since the 1990s. Even The West Wing made nods to the stereotype of the “Blonde Republican sex kitten.” However, only recently have I also seen this girl squad of right-wing, Trump mouthpieces representing the “conservative columnist” or “Republican political analyst” on channels and venues beyond Fox. Perhaps because they aren’t screechy old-white dudes, CNN finds this crop of blonde commentators more palatable, as if Trumpism could be made more digestible if it wears cute sweaters and curls. I knew there was a strong pipeline of young blonde Republicans in places like Fox or on conservative talk radio. Now it is mainstream. I call this flaxen pipeline of blonde, female media personalities and their brand of twisted identity politics, The Kellyanne Effect after Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s campaign manager who shattered a glass ceiling by being the first female presidential campaign manager to see a victory.
If progressives want to compete with the golden-haired Republican/Trump media machine, then they will have to study its structure, strategy, tactics and people— i.e. the legion of platinum media personalities. So, pay attention.
The upcoming bleached generation of Kellyannes has a sort of demographic and LinkedIn pattern. They look like a fun group of my girlfriends out at Dos Caminos for a birthday party and free Yelp check-in tequila shots. They look relatable, friendly, and Christian. They highlight their notes and make clear arguments, kinda like the girls in my high school who had Juicy Couture pencil cases filled with Sharpies and colored gel pens. I’m talking about the Katherine Timpf, Katie Pavlich, Kayleigh McEnany, and Tomi Lahren sorts. They write for The Hill, Townhall, or The Washington Times. They’ve paid their dues with stints at Drudge. Maybe they did a Koch leadership institute. They’ve done their “mainstream” appearance on The View or in New York comedy clubs. Some have been the object of false desire and significant ire on Black Twitter. Curiously, many of them are 28; must have been something in the Reagan water, or did everyone get turned on when Bush Sr. won?
They are not necessarily outrage driven Ann Coulter-types and her chromium plated spite machine; they might even pass as politically correct. Make no mistake though — they are patriotically correct and will make sure you are too, especially if you say anything about burning flags or protesting Trump. They will do so with perfect enunciation and possibly (mostly Tomi Lahren) go into a certain degree of “beast mode” that I haven’t seen since a particularly vicious field hockey game in high school: if necessary, they will hit you with their stick to score their goal, tie their hair bow back into its perfect shape, blame you for their penalty, and then possibly make an uncalled for remark about your sexual orientation before smiling at the referee.
The Kellyanne Effect takes liberal identity politics and turning them on their head with a conservative twist. Oh you say Trump is sexist? Breitbart touts that Kellyanne Conway was the first victorious female campaign manager. You think we aren’t diverse? Look at Omarosa! You think we are racist? Tomi Lahren will tell you that Obama and Beyoncé are the ones being racist for pointing out race to allegedly color-blind Americans. You want to talk gay marriage? Ann Coulter will tell you that gay people don’t even want to get married because the institution is outdated and against gay culture. You think we spread false news? Kayleigh McEnany will tell you that the Left has 9/11 truthers who have been spreading lies for decades. They get to fit in with their progressive girl friends, sharing a seat at the Lean In table (at least until Ivanka’s book comes out). They are diverse, strong, balanced, devoted women who also remain true to their Christian values as they boldly don their crosses on cable.
After claiming and championing their own definitions of diversity, gender equality, racism, and gay rights, in the true Kellyanne Effect fashion, they proceed to do what most liberal feminist would perceive as self-sabotaging or even politically evasive. Conway publicly insists that women stay home with kids and give up careers in the White House; either this reeks of bitterness for not getting an appointment or she is gearing up for her own Trump TV talk show. Coulter will climb the ladder as a female political pundit, then say women should not be able to vote; it gets eyes and ratings! They take soft-balls about racism thrown at them and hit them back, as Katie Pavlich will quickly point out the Left has yet to denounce many of their own racists, but she does it to avoid a conversation about the Confederate flag. Scottie Nell Hughes denounced a SNL skit about her as “sexist” after she publicly supported Trump’s innocence by doubting his sexual assault victims because they didn’t come forward before the election.
But Real Talk…
I imagine this squad of sun-soaked locks put up with a lot of sexism, just like any female in media does — as evidence by the recent Fox News lawsuits. They have thick skin, smarts, and know how to play the conservative-media game to win it. Props. That does take skill, ambition, and talent.
We just don’t have the same politics. In fact, I find their kind of politics as very damaging to vulnerable populations in America. Before you pull a Kellyanne on me and say that criticizing fellow females (particularly blondes) is “anti-feminist,” I would argue that one can be a “feminist” and still openly disagree with the political views of other “successful” women. Especially if progressive women want to move away from “white feminism” towards something more inclusive, we better start calling out instead of just leaning into influential women. Solidarity does not mean turning the cheek.
After all, I sympathize with certain conservative personalities and find myself nodding my head to their arguments at times. I can be a S.E. Cupp and Mary Katherine Hamm girl — probably because they don’t tow the party line as Trump mouthpieces and strike me as sophisticated freethinkers to admire, especially given my own libertarian streaks earned during a farmstead childhood. And they are brunettes. Like me. I also harbor genuine admiration for Megyn Kelly’s choice to challenge the likes of Ted Cruz and Donald Trump. I’m anxious to see if her “real colors” will show on NBC, once she is out of the toxic Fox peroxide pool. Will there be a mea culpa for some of what she said in the past? Will she go brunette?
What does the Left do?
Is the problem being we are too flooded with liberals on television? Is the nature of “liberal” just so pluralistic we cannot have a cohesive media machine? Are we not specifically including young liberals (and no, not Lena Dunham for G-d’s sake) into Democratic leadership? Or is it that we don’t have more specific channels within Democratic leadership to become the face of it, instead of just relying on older generation commentators? Most insiders will say the latter.
If progressives want to compete with the sun-bleached Grand Old Party, they have to start investing in pipelines to compete with younger, fresher faces of many colors. What Townhall.com or DailyCaller or The Hill should we write for if we want to get mainstream as Democratic thinkers? Do we have a cable One America News Network that will take a chance on a twenty-something like they did with Tomi? The Right intentionally cultivates youth in formal media and political leadership groups that the Left just fundamentally lacks in numbers as strong as the Right.
As I try to make my own media career, maybe I should consider the audience who listens to the blonde girl next door. There is something in that platinum pelo that just screams “Trust me!” to the average American watching cable. Calling up my stylist to go blonde next week… or maybe I should say screw it and be the anti-blonde. But what anti-blonde anyway?