Kellyanne Conway tells Bill Maher Americans 'better off' thanks to Trump

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Martin Pengelly in New York
·4 min read
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Former Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway defended her president’s legacy on Friday night, telling HBO Real Time host Bill Maher: “You can’t deny that many people are better off.”

Related: Trump saw the economy was his ticket to a second term – then Covid struck

“Well they’re not better off now,” Maher replied. “A lot of them are dead.”

Johns Hopkins University put the US death toll from the coronavirus at 391,789 on Saturday, with 3,258 deaths on Friday and a caseload of 23.5m.

Also on Friday, Joe Biden labelled the Trump administration’s vaccine rollout “a dismal failure”.

Conway insisted the “real disappointment for people like me is that the last two months, let’s just say from 6 November to 6 January, weren’t spent mostly talking about the accomplishments, reviewing the accomplishments. He built the greatest economy we had”.

Maher responded that the US economy was “pretty much built” when Trump succeeded Barack Obama. He did not mention the catastrophic economic impact of Covid and the botched response. The US unemployment rate is 6.7%, with new claims rocketing.

Conway’s reference to 6 January was telling. That was the day Trump told supporters at the White House to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat, which he has not conceded and which he baselessly maintains was the result of electoral fraud.

A mob stormed the US Capitol, resulting in five deaths – one a police officer who confronted attackers, one a rioter shot by law enforcement – multiple arrests, fears of more attacks and reports saying some who ransacked the seat of federal government intended to capture lawmakers and kill them.

Trump eventually said he disavowed the violence but was nonetheless impeached in the House of Representatives for inciting the attack. He is set to vacate the White House on Wednesday, when Biden will be inaugurated, but will still face a Senate trial. Mike Lindell, chief executive of My Pillow and an informal Trump adviser, was seen at the White House on Friday carrying notes which appeared to advocate the imposition of martial law.

Conway is a longtime Republican operative whose CV now includes five years as counsellor to the only president impeached twice, a dogged defender who found infamy claiming Trump peddled “alternative facts” and for blaming refugees for a terror attack, the “Bowling Green massacre”, that never occurred.

She left the White House in August, saying she wanted to spend more time with a family split by Trump – her husband is the lawyer George Conway, a founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project, while her daughter Claudia has made a name for herself with criticism of the president on social media. Conway campaigned for Trump in November and for the Republican candidates in two Senate runoffs in Georgia in January – contests Democrats won, thereby taking control of the chamber.

Conway told Maher the Capitol riot was “horrible, inexcusable, disgraceful” and said “justice should be served”. She added: “Last week was vulgar. There’s no place for violence and vandalism. I wish the president had spoken with the people earlier to get them the hell out of there.

“I did get through to him. I’d said to the person standing next to them, ‘Please add my name to the chorus of people just saying, ‘You have to tell them to get out. I don’t know what they’re doing, why they’re there, but tell them to get out.”

Maher asked if Conway would “admit that the reason why they were there is because he never conceded the election”. She told Maher she recognised Trump’s defeat “a long time ago”. In fact, she did so on 4 December, a month after election day and long after the race was called for Biden.

“I think those murders and marauders insult, not represent, the Trump movement,” Conway insisted, adding that Trump represented “the forgotten man and woman” and saying: “74 million people is not a base – it’s a large percentage of the country”.

Related: Can Joe Biden make America great again?

More than 81 million voted for Biden, who also won the electoral college by 306-232, a result Trump said was a landslide when it was in his favour over Hillary Clinton.

Maher pressed Conway on Trump’s lying and insults, reading out both a list of barbs Trump has thrown at him and a list of things kindergarteners know not to do – lie, bully, boast, mock the handicapped – which Trump did from his position of power.

Conway dodged such volleys with practiced ease, saying she was proud to have been a woman with a voice in White House policy debates.

Conway and Maher have history, back to his days presenting Politically Incorrect for ABC. Writing in the Daily Beast on Friday, Marlow Stern said the comedian “could have done a better job of holding her feet to the fire”.