MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Check out President Trump's Twitter feed today, and you will find he has some choice words for a man named George Conway. Specifically, the president writes that Conway is, quote, "a stone-cold loser and husband from hell" - exclamation point. And this is what the president had to say about Conway on his way to Ohio earlier today.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: He's a whack job. There's no question about it. But I really don't know him. He - I think he's doing a tremendous disservice to a wonderful wife.
KELLY: Part of what makes this worth raising with NPR's Mara Liasson, who's in the studio with us now, is who George Conway is husband to. And that would be Kellyanne Conway, one of the president's most senior and longest-serving advisers. Hi, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi there.
KELLY: Who is George Conway aside from spouse of Kellyanne Conway?
LIASSON: George Conway is a lawyer with impeccable conservative credentials. He was offered a job in the Trump Justice Department. He's a member in good standing of the Federalist Society. And a long time ago, he was a behind-the-scenes lawyer in the Clinton scandals. He worked on the Paula Jones legal team. But now he's an ardent anti-Trump conservative.
He helped start the group Checks and Balances. And he has been tweeting about the president's policies and character, lack of respect for the Constitution for quite some time. But recently he escalated that to tweeting about the president's mental state. And most recently he tweeted out the technical medical definition of a narcissistic personality disorder, and that got the president to respond, as you just heard.
KELLY: This would seem to put Kellyanne Conway in an awfully difficult position. What is she saying?
LIASSON: Well, in the past, she has pushed back against having to answer for the views of her husband. But she told Politico today that the president was right to respond when, quote, "a non-medical professional" accused him of having a mental disorder. She has said on CNN recently that her husband had been thrilled when Trump was elected, crying with happiness on election night. But then he changed his opinions.
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KELLYANNE CONWAY: It's an unusual situation, especially in politics or Washington and certainly in Republican politics, for a husband to get his notoriety and power through his wife. It's usually the other way around.
KELLY: Another thing here that snagged my attention, Mara - in the president's tweets, he keeps calling George Conway Mr. Kellyanne Conway. He seems to consider this an insult to call a guy by his wife's name.
LIASSON: Apparently yes. Yes, that was one - there's so many layers to this.
LIASSON: Somehow or other, the president thinks that it is belittling or emasculating or diminishing for a man to have a wife that is more powerful or well-known than him. I can't really tell whether that's sexist or whether he was trying to help out Kellyanne Conway. But of course George Conway responded to that in a tweet. He said, what I really don't want to be called is Individual 1.
KELLY: Big picture, why should we care about a spat between the president and the husband of one of his advisers?
LIASSON: We should care because this is a window into how Donald Trump thinks a president should lead or how he believes a strong leader should act - always counterpunching, always taking the bait, always making the sideshow the main event even at the cost of elevating your enemies and critics.
KELLY: Elevating your enemies - this prompts me to ask about another thing that President Trump's been talking about, which is Senator John McCain - the late Senator John McCain, who he has taken to insulting again.
LIASSON: That's right. It's almost as if Trump is fixated on the late war hero and Republican senator. He continued to attack McCain today in his speech in Ohio unprompted for at least five full minutes according to the pool report. He described why he didn't like make McCain, why he wasn't - he complained that he wasn't thanked for giving McCain the funeral that he wanted. It's almost as if John McCain is haunting him from the grave. And, you know, McCain is revered by many Republicans. And once again, Trump has put members of his own party into an uncomfortable position. You could say that's another political marriage that Trump has roiled.
KELLY: Just a few seconds left, Mara, but to the political marriage point, you've been around Washington long enough to see a few. Have you ever seen anything like this?
LIASSON: No, nothing like this. There was Mary Matalin and James Carville, but they were on two different sides. But what could be swampier than to gossip about a politically polarized marriage? Look; they're just like the country. But what happens inside a marriage is private. Kellyanne Conway...
LIASSON: ...Should not have to answer for her husband's comments. But here she is.
KELLY: Reporting from deep inside the swamp - NPR's Mara Liasson. Thank you, Mara.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.