Claudia Conway Makes Peace

At the Conway home in New Jersey, Kellyanne's daughter talks going viral, coming out, and getting along with her mom.

by Avery Stone
Claudia Conway photographed in New York City.

On the day of the 2022 midterm elections, I pulled up to the childhood home of Claudia Conway. Nestled on a quiet road in the town of Alpine, New Jersey, about 30 minutes from Manhattan, the house is a large but plain-looking brick mansion that pops against the surrounding trees. Because it is the home she shared with her parents — Kellyanne Conway, the political consultant known as the woman who got Donald Trump elected, and George Conway, a conservative lawyer who co-founded the anti-Trump PAC The Lincoln Project — I was expecting a fortress. Instead, there was a clear path to the front door.

That door swung open before I could knock. Inside stood Claudia Conway, dressed in a black T-shirt dress and black-and-white Jordan 1s. At 5-foot-1, she looked tiny in the vast entryway, flanked by tall white columns. Most people who know Claudia know her through their phone screens: In mid-2020, at the age of 15, she started going viral on TikTok for lambasting her mother’s political views in ways both hilarious and seething. At a time when the pandemic was confining many to their homes and anxiety over the 2020 election was ratcheting up, Claudia was both a source of entertainment and schadenfreude for liberals — the mole who broke news about the administration (like the fact that her mother had COVID-19 in October 2020) and aired her family’s dirty laundry (in a handful of videos, she hinted at her parents’ marital troubles, though they are still married).

But what started as amusing later turned darker, as Claudia announced her intent to legally emancipate herself and shared clips of what appeared to be ugly fights with her mother that prompted public concern about her well-being. Not long after, Claudia expressed some regret over making her family struggles public and deleted many of her headline-making videos. Yet she has never left the public eye completely: In 2021, she had a brief stint on American Idol, and she has continued making TikToks, embracing the influencer life with content about fashion and makeup as well as her burgeoning progessive activism and queer identity. As a teenager who grew up with social media, she has always had the power to post what’s on her mind; feeling understood has been harder.

“Hey, I’m Claudia!” she says warmly, enveloping me in a hug. The light streamed in on her face and lit up her piercing blue eyes, the feature that most identifies her as her mother’s daughter. Then she shuffled back inside and, without hesitation, told me to come right on in.

Claudia Conway photographed in New York City.Sara Naomi Lewkowicz

Claudia Conway turned 18 in mid-October. When we meet, there are still rainbow birthday balloons hovering on the ceiling of her kitchen. That age is a milestone for anyone, but for Claudia, it means she can not only vote — later that day, she’d go to her local polling place for the first time — but also get a fresh chance at telling her story.

“I took a break from [interviews] because of the way that my words were being misconstrued — especially as a teenager, and especially with the chaos of, one, my home life, and, two, the atmosphere that I was catapulted into,” she says as we settle into a pair of couches near the entryway. She never wanted to be seen as a whistleblower: “I was trying to let the world know that you are not a product of your environment. Because I could not be any [more] different from where I came from.”

In conversation, Claudia is animated and expressive, the words tumbling out of her as if her brain is moving faster than her mouth will allow. She frequently apologizes for talking too much, but at times firmly and politely steers the conversation back to what’s on her mind — the personal tolls of becoming an Internet firestorm, getting involved in IRL activism — as if she had prepared a list of topics to discuss.

“For the past two years, three years, I really focused on trying to be a normal teenager because normalcy is something I never really had growing up,” she says. Even before TikTok, no one could deny that Claudia’s childhood was unusual. When she was 10, Donald Trump gave her family a ride home from the 2015 South Carolina Freedom Summit in his private jet. This was before he had officially announced his candidacy. “I remember Donald Trump asking me on the plane, ‘Do you think I have a shot at running for president?’” Claudia says. “And I was like, ‘I don’t know.’”

“Sometimes, when people hear Claudia Conway, they’re like, ‘Oh, isn’t that that girl that tried to take down her mom?’ when that really wasn’t the case at all.”

Right now, being a normal teenager means finishing school (she’s in her senior year at her local public school, completing courses online), hanging out with friends, and exploring her hobbies (meditation, music, painting). When she graduates, she plans to move to New York City with a friend she met on social media. She’d like to go to college one day, when she has a better idea of what she wants to do with her life, but all she knows right now is that she wants to find a way to be of service to other people.

Over the summer, after Roe v. Wade was overturned, Claudia helped organize protests in support of abortion rights. Her friend Jamil Mouehla, a Bates College sophomore who co-organized one such rally with her in Englewood, New Jersey, says she is a commanding presence on the ground. “Claudia, she’s not scared,” he says. “She’s not tall, but her voice is loud. Screaming into the microphone, echoing things, I was like, ‘Wow — that’s powerful.’”

Claudia also volunteers for multiple small New York-based reproductive rights organizations — calling, texting, making flyers, helping running social media accounts. “I’ve done a lot of things anonymously and still reach people that don’t even know [who my parents are],” she says. “Because sometimes, when people hear Claudia Conway, they’re like, ‘Oh, isn’t that that girl that tried to take down her mom?’ when that really wasn’t the case at all. It’s really powerful that I can still help people using my name [and also] not using my name.”

Currently, the Conways are spread out on the East Coast. Claudia lives with her twin brother, George, and their grandmother, whom she describes as an old-school Italian Catholic, in Alpine, while Claudia’s younger sisters attend school in Washington, D.C.; their parents travel back and forth. The New Jersey house is full of pictures of the whole family: little Claudia in a cheerleading uniform (a short-lived pursuit, she says); Claudia leaning on Kellyanne in a black-and-white photo from a party; Kellyanne and George on their wedding day in 2001, tucked slightly behind other photos in the kitchen. Above the stove is an illustration of a house at the end of a long, winding driveway, accompanied by text: “You never really leave a place you love. You take part of it with you — and leave part of you behind.”

“Speaking of my mom,” Claudia says. “Our relationship is great now.”

Claudia and Kellyanne Conway at the White House in 2017.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press

It wasn’t that long ago that things looked dire. In August of 2020, Claudia accused her mom on social media of “years of childhood trauma and abuse,” allegations she stands by today. “It was mainly verbal abuse, emotional abuse, stuff like that. Never feeling like I was enough,” Claudia says. Then, in early 2021, Kellyanne was accused of posting a nude photo of Claudia on Twitter. Claudia says the photo was real and that her mom found it while going through her phone, but she believes her mom’s account was hacked — the photo was posted as a Twitter fleet, a feature she says her mom never used. “My mother helped me through it. She helped me clear it from the Internet. So I wholeheartedly don’t think she posted it,” says Claudia, who learned the photo was public through comments on her TikTok. “But it was extremely traumatic.”

Starting in late 2020, however, Claudia and Kellyanne — who did not comment on the photo incident or her daughter’s allegations — started going to therapy together, and Claudia says those sessions helped them understand and make peace with each other.

“I’m not going to talk about my mom’s trauma because it’s her story, not mine,” she says. “But when you have trauma that you have held onto for, let’s say, 40 years of your life, and you have children, it is so hard to not pass that down to them.” Now Claudia says she has “all the respect in the world” for her mom for confronting her past with her in therapy: “Being so young, it’s really hard to understand why someone is treating you the way they are, especially when they’re your mother and you look up to them so much. I’ve learned so much about her.”

One of things that helped them heal, Claudia says, was realizing their political views aligned in more ways than she thought, particularly when it comes to reproductive rights: “That’s something that a lot of people would be surprised to hear,” she says. “She was supportive of my protests, of all the work that I did this summer, because she knows. She’s been with people — helped people get abortions. She’s had her own experiences with reproductive health care, and I think it’s actually really cool, and I hope that she’ll talk about that more.”

“It’s really hard to understand why someone is treating you the way they are, especially when they’re your mother and you look up to them so much. I’ve learned so much about her.”

Kellyanne, who has said she is pro-life but sympathizes with women who’ve had abortions, did not detail her time in therapy with Claudia. Over email, though, she tells Bustle “there’s no question” the two have found political common ground. “It’s a great example of how in this country you can embrace conflict or engage in conversation,” she writes. “Claudia and I recognize that we agree on plenty, because we’ve talked about it. I wish more families, friends, and Americans would.”

At times in her life, Claudia has bristled at the way her mother’s identity has loomed over her. Claudia competed on the 19th season of American Idol — she loves to write songs and play the piano, and at one point during a tour of the house, she hopped behind a grand piano to play a little — but felt uneasy about the way her storyline focused on her parents. “My dad came with me for the auditions because I obviously needed a parent there, and they turned it into a whole thing,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh, well, Claudia’s mom isn’t here…’ I remember Katy Perry asked me a bunch of stuff about my parents and that made me really, really uncomfortable.” (Reps for Perry and Idol did not comment.)

Today, she is less opposed to keeping family out of her public life. Claudia says her mom has been approached about starting a podcast and wants her daughter to be a guest — a kind of one-off Red Table Talk for the suburban New Jersey set. “I think that could be really powerful,” Claudia says.

Claudia Conway auditioning for American Idol.Christopher Willard / Getty Images

Claudia’s political awakening happened slowly, then all at once. “I was taught that Democrats are killing babies and gay marriage is not OK,” she says. “I don’t think it was with any malicious intent, growing up especially — that’s just what I was told.” But even as a child, she remembers being curious about other points of view and reading textbooks for fun into her teenage years. One time, when she was around 13, she says her mother found her in her room, researching Planned Parenthood and scribbling statistics into a notebook after she heard Tomi Lahren talk about abortion bans on Fox News. Claudia was often told by adults that she was too young to have an opinion, so she armed herself with information. “I mean, it was pretty remarkable for a 13-, 14-year-old to be talking about the economy at the dinner table like a know-it-all,” she says.

“My daughter is objectively beautiful and brilliant — anybody who denies that is honestly just jealous of her,” Kellyanne writes. “She’s very creative and entrepreneurial. She’s just always been willing to push herself a little farther, read something that wasn’t assigned, enter a conversation or a situation that may be uncomfortable or new.”

“I would have much rather, when I was 6 years old, met a drag queen than a priest. I would’ve loved to see representation of somebody like myself.”

Claudia also knew she was queer from a very young age — around 11 — and disagreed with Republican rhetoric around LGBTQ+ people. When describing her identity, she uses the word gay but also pansexual; she’s dated people who are nonbinary. “I definitely have a preference for women,” she says. “I don’t see myself ever being with a man, ever.” When she was a child, she used to tell her mother that her biggest fear was being married to a man. “[My mom would] be like, ‘What is wrong with you?’” she says. “But yeah, I’m just gay. Nothing wrong. I’m just gay.”

She started coming out to people at age 15 but accidentally told her whole family over a holiday dinner two years ago: “My brother and I were bickering back and forth, like siblings do,” she says. “And I said something along the lines [of] ‘You're just mad that I get more girls than you do.’” Claudia describes her family as generally accepting. (“She’s loved unconditionally and she’s supported unequivocally, no matter who she loves,” Kellyanne writes.) But she is frustrated with some of her mom’s public statements on LGBTQ+ issues. Just the other day on Fox News, Kellyanne took a dig at the Biden administration for inviting drag queens to the White House. “I would have much rather, when I was 6 years old, met a drag queen than a priest,” Claudia says. “Growing up queer, I would’ve loved to learn about it and see representation of somebody like myself.”

Claudia Conway photographed in New York City.Sara Naomi Lewkowicz

Still, nothing cemented her opposition to right-wing politics like the events of 2016. Conway gestures toward the living room nearby where her grandmother, aunt, and siblings all watched the returns on election night. “Everyone’s crying, so happy,” she recalls, “and I’m thinking in my head, before the results, ‘I hope to God that this woman wins.’”

Today, Claudia hates talking about Trump, hates the fact that his name is even associated with her family because of her mom’s career choices. (“jesus christ I am NOT living through this shit again,” she tweeted in November after his 2024 campaign announcement.) It’s one of the reasons she could only get halfway through Kellyanne’s first memoir, Here’s the Deal, which chronicled her time in the White House and beyond. “A lot of the things he did and said were not in anyone’s best interest, especially little girls like my sisters,” Claudia says. “My priority always is to protect them and to make sure that they know that they don’t have to believe in the same things that my mom does or my family does. But you can still have open-minded conversations — that’s something so important that I learned.”

Despite her strong stances, Claudia doesn’t claim a political label outside of describing her views as left-leaning; she’s registered as an independent. When she talks about voting, it’s the one time in our conversation where she actually sounds a little like, well, a politician. “I certainly won’t be voting for any Republican candidates. But that being said, I think it’s really, really important, especially for young voters to keep an open mind and to really do the research,” she says. “Vote for those who you think are really going to make a change, really going to implement the changes that you want to see in your community, in your district, in your county, in your state, and in your country.”

And with that, we hopped in the car — George in the driver’s seat, Claudia riding shotgun — to the polling place down the road. While in line to cast her ballot, Claudia excitedly tried to snap a selfie with her brother, until a poll worker shut her down and she apologized brightly. Later, on the way home, she took another from the front seat, smiling and giving a thumbs-up, with her “I VOTED TODAY” sticker displayed prominently on the front of her dress. “Hope you all voted,” she wrote on Instagram, and added three red hearts. Then she posted it.

Photographs by Sara Naomi Lewkowicz