August 5, 2016
by Matthew Raab
During the 2016 Republican National Convention, SFS alumna Kayleigh McEnany (SFS’10) could be found in a primetime skybox spot at Quicken Loans Arena providing commentary on CNN. Her path to political news has taken her from Georgetown to organizations throughout Washington, and now placed her in the middle of a contentious election cycle. Through her job as a CNN analyst, she had a firsthand look at the Republican attempt to set their narratives at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio.
“This election cycle is truly like no other. Both parties experienced insurgencies from political outsiders,” McEnany said. “In the Democratic Party, Bernie Sanders, an unknown independent senator, received 43 percent of the vote and posed a formidable challenge to Hillary Clinton. In the Republican Party, Donald Trump, a businessman who has never held elected office, defied political odds and beat out 16 competitors.”
For McEnany, this was the place to start in understanding currents at the RNC and around the country.
“The rise of the outsiders signals a disenchanted electorate, fed up with Washington and desperate for a complete overhaul of the political class.”
McEnany’s journey to political commentary during this historic election began with her interest in politics and political media, which was nurtured by her time at the School of Foreign Service.
“Georgetown School of Foreign Service was the perfect fit for me.” McEnany explained. “I cannot overstate the importance SFS has played in my career … Academically, SFS equipped me with a deep understanding of foreign relations and provided me with a degree that is prized and deeply respected in both media and politics.”
Georgetown also provided the access that allowed her to move towards political media professionally.
“My political internships with Bush-Cheney 2004, Tom Gallagher for Governor 2006, and the Office of Congressman Adam Putnam culminated in the ultimate internship in the Bush White House’s Office of Media Affairs,” McEnany said. “It was during this White House internship that I developed an interest in media and … attained multiple internships, and eventually a job at Fox News. “
After graduating from Harvard Law School, McEnany landed at CNN in her current position as an on-air political commentator. Her arguments in support of Republican nominee Donald Trump have garnered notice on the network’s broadcasts, and she has risen to prominent placement in the network’s programming, including her spot covering the Republican National Convention.
While there, McEnany found the energized atmosphere to be indicative of potential strong points for Trump moving forward.
“The enthusiasm was audible and electric,” she said. “Chants of ‘U.S.A.’ and roaring applause broke out, particularly for our American heroes like Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell and Benghazi veterans Mark Geist and John Tiegen.”
McEnany sees the enthusiasm partially as a result from the RNC theme highlighting party unity.
I think the message of the RNC – strength and unity in the face of our economic and security challenges – will certainly animate Trump’s candidacy going forward.
That message was cast in what McEnany saw as sober, pragmatic terms, acknowledging the difficulties ahead but recognizing room for improvement via a shared path to solutions.
“The RNC painted a realistic portrayal of the challenges we face and solutions to these problems,” she said. “With wages and economic growth stagnant and ISIS committing atrocities worldwide, the RNC gave voice to Americans’ concerns while also proposing the vision of a strong, united country to counteract these problems.”
For McEnany, the commentary on foreign affairs and security was particularly poignant.
“National security is the issue that animates me, perhaps due to my SFS background,” she said. “The threat of non-state actors like ISIS have become as much of a strategic threat as authoritarian states like Iran and North Korea. Rethinking national security in the age of rogue actors is an important issue for me.”
Beyond the politics of a particularly vitriolic round of elections, though, McEnany has been impressed by the capacity for civil debate and sharing of opinions that she has found in her experience as a member of the media.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is receiving compliments from fellow CNN commentators, and also viewers, with differing opinions than my own,” she said. “That they respect the way I debate even if they might disagree with my conclusions.”
As November draws ever closer, McEnany plans to continue working for print and television media. After the election, she’s less sure, as is the norm in Washington every election cycle.
“As the election heats up, I will maintain my daytime and primetime appearances at CNN while also writing for a variety of outlets,” she said. “As for my plans after November, only time will tell what the political, legal, and media world hold for me next.”