George Conway’s Conundrum

While Kellyanne Conway was doing the happy dance with her boss following Attorney General Barr’s letter describing his summary of the Mueller investigation, George Conway, Kellyanne’s husband, continued to tweet that Donald Trump is suffering from serious psychological pathology. George thinks Trump is, among other things, a dangerous liar and that the Mueller report is a whitewash. He tweeted about Trump’s behaviors drawing reference from the DSM 5 listing the symptoms used to diagnose psychiatric ailments of two personality disorders, narcissistic and antisocial. Kellyanne disagrees with her husband. In fact, she acts publicly more supportive of Trump than she appears to be of her own husband. No matter, he is deliberate in his public scorn of the Trump administration.

George Conway’s frustrations with presidential actions, conduct and ominously abrasive behaviors are understandable, but George is an attorney not a psychologist, so his descriptions of the President’s pathology are not clinically meaningful. It is true that there are trained mental health professionals who have referred to Trump as a malignant narcissist and have even contributed to a book in which they assess him as dangerous. Still, until he is evaluated face to face the labels are theoretical at best. Even more so when an attorney claims to know a diagnosis. But the Conway family dynamic makes for an even more potentially fascinating and curious situation.

It is not unheard of for a married couple to have differing views about politics. Mary Matalin and James Carville, well known political consultants with a strong media presence, have long set the public tone for an apparently happy marriage as far back as the Clinton presidency despite having disparate political ideologies. In the Conway household though there is certainly more going on. To say the least the discrepant fealty to Trump she displays and his public distaste for him is bizarre. If you have ever seen Kellyanne answer a question from an interviewer she thinks may be demeaning of Trump you know that she can be massively belligerent, and she often does not even allow the questioner the courtesy to finish a sentence. If that’s her behavior at home, aggressive, quarrelsome and truculent, it would make for a very conflicted and dysfunctional homelife. If not and she is calm and nurturing at home, then how does George view his wife’s pathological behavior outside of the house? I have to believe that goes far beyond George’s public diagnostic proclamations of the president and has more to do with the possibility of his wife’s pathology.

Not many people are familiar with a diagnostic category known as shared psychotic disorder. Despite being a well-documented phenomenon, it is not listed in the DSM 5. In prior diagnostic texts it was referred to as a folie à deux which is a situation in which the delusions of an individual with real psychological pathology are transferred to another mentally sound person. Delusions of grandeur, of a false belief in one’s genius, superhuman skills, wealth and fame, can be spread onto a person close to them. While this is most likely to occur with a spouse or sibling, someone with an intimate and ongoing sense of connection, it can theoretically occur with someone who works closely with the individual who is the initiating source of pathology. If a mental health professional were to do a mental status exam of the affected individuals, the one with the clearly distorted reality testing and the individual who is more reality based but shares the delusions, both would have delusional ideas, poor insight, meager judgement and limited attention and concentration. Both individuals would be locked on the grandiosity and how unfair those who did not accept it are.

Perhaps George perceives Kellyanne as suffering this shared pathology with her boss and in a most public way is attempting to get her to see the affect. He did say that he tweets about Trump because he does not want to argue with his wife. It is also possible that he is not aware of the diagnostics of shared psychotic disorder, so he has fallen back on the diagnoses that others have labeled Trump with. In either event, whether he gets it intellectually or is simply acting reflexively, he does make a very important point. There is trouble in the administration and his wife is an important player in perpetuating it.

About the Author
Dr Michael Salamon, is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and a 2018 APA Presidential Citation Awardee. He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications) and "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America). His newest book is called "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."