Into this raging mess of information and misinformation surrounding the White House and its COVID outbreak springs Claudia Conway, a kid with a phone that her parents presumably pay for. With it, and specifically with TikTok, she told the world on Friday that her mother, Kellyanne Conway, was “coughing all around the house”; hours later, her mother, who was present at the White House “super-spreader” event on September 26, confirmed the news.
Claudia, age 15, is a longtime poster on TikTok, beginning when the app was still Musical.ly. As her mother’s star rose during the 2016 election, the content of Claudia’s videos turned toward politics and her family’s role within it. It’s a complicated drama: Kellyanne was a confidant of the president’s, her husband, George, is a prominent Never Trumper and cofounder of the Lincoln Project; Claudia is not a supporter of either parent, nor the president, nor the media that relishes her commentary. Both of her parents stepped back from their respective duties in August to focus on the family, after Claudia claimed she was seeking emancipation; she then accused both of them of physical and verbal abuse (neither have publicly responded to the accusations). “Less drama, more mama” was the former counselor to the president’s promise.
This apparently did not go as planned. First because Kellyanne was still at the September event in the Rose Garden where the president formally announced that he would nominate Amy Coney Barrett; a total of 20 people have since tested positive for COVID in the White House outbreak, according to the New York Times. And second, because Claudia is still making fairly big waves with her TikToks.
After Claudia first alluded to her mother’s diagnosis, she kept up with the news over the weekend, including after Trump was hospitalized Friday. She replied to comments on another TikTok that read, “guys lmao [Trump is] not doing ‘better,’” and “he is so ridiculous. apparently he is doing badly lol and they are doing what they can to stabilize him.”
Then, in deleted TikTok posts from Monday, Claudia accused her mother of withholding her diagnosis. Kellyanne, always shaping the message, stepped in for a follow-up video, telling her daughter in the background, “Do it now. You say, ‘Correction, my mom had three tests.’” Claudia did as she was told, posting a video with the caption, “Little clarification from my previous posts. my mother claims that she did not lie to me. she had three tests done. first negative, second two positive. we were not in communication. i misinterpreted it.”
By early Tuesday morning, Kellyanne had chastised the world for making anything of her kid’s comments. “My daughter, Claudia, is beautiful & brilliant. She has access to top doctors & health care & lives comfortably,” she tweeted. “Like all of you, she speculates on social media. Yet she’s 15. You are adults. We have COVID, but it’s clear who’s really sick.”
Claudia is 15, but with her TikTok about her mother’s COVID diagnosis she also broke news. Her left-leaning fans on Twitter have dubbed her the Mark Felt of her generation. Or the Bob Woodward of her generation. Or some mixture of both collapsed into one TikTok account, informant and access broker all in one. With her comments about Trump, she has only said what anyone might conclude if they read between the lines of what Trump’s doctor has said and refused to say. Still to see it stated clearly and so antagonistically still feels like a balm, even though it’s administered by a 15-year-old whose parents have spent the last few years establishing themselves as the ringleaders of a political circus.
It’s no fun to get so much out of a teenager’s TikToks. And it especially doesn’t feel good that her mother, favored jester in the court of disingenuousness, is right: Claudia is a teenager and a private citizen, not a paid pundit. But that is a hope for the ideal world, not the one we’re living in, which Kellyanne was instrumental in creating. She was the author of “alternative facts” so many lifetimes ago; she’s part of the reason believable information is hard to come by with these people, and why her own daughter’s rebellion hits so strongly.
Anyway, they’re now quarantining. Claudia announced she had also contracted the disease. George has picked up Theraflu for his wife, he said on Twitter, itself its own dig at the president. Like Kellyanne said herself, she and her daughter have access to the best doctors. Odds are they’ll be fine in one sense. Jury’s still out on everything else.
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