McEnany became a regular fixture on CNN’s top prime-time shows, including CNN Tonight, Anderson Cooper 360, and The Lead With Jake Tapper. “I find her to be a useful counter to all of our intellectual bubble,” Ham told me. While McEnany always stayed polite, several contributors and past producers told me, she was able to deliver tension and conflict; the phrase good television came up in several of my conversations. McEnany’s segments became “kind of like political Jerry Springer,” said one contributor, who asked not to be named out of fear of professional repercussions. Ratings soared.
As 2016 wore on, however, some at CNN lost patience with McEnany’s commitment to defending Trump regardless of what he said or did. A month before the election, after The Washington Post reported on comments Trump had made while filming an episode of Access Hollywood about grabbing women “by the pussy” without their consent, McEnany joined a panel hosted by Tapper ahead of the second presidential debate. “On Friday, a tape was revealed with Donald Trump saying—boasting—about sexually assaulting women. Fact,” Tapper said. “It’s been denounced by Mike Pence and Melania Trump, to name two people. Is your passion for the victims of sexual assault—does it extend to whomever Donald Trump grabbed by the P-word?” McEnany pushed back. “We don’t have proof that Donald Trump acted in that way. There’s one person out of both of these families who has been accused of sexual assault in a court of law. One. And that is Bill Clinton.” The conversation devolved into chaos: Other panelists tried to jump in, and Tapper attempted to intervene. “Talking over me doesn’t make what you’re saying true,” he said to McEnany, prompting loud oohs from the audience. A producer from Tapper’s show said the program is committed to booking ideologically diverse voices, including Trump supporters. But when they start lying or “defending the indefensible,” people stop getting booked. This exchange was the moment, the producer said, when McEnany crossed a line.
It also may have been the best possible audition tape for her next job. McEnany stuck around CNN through Trump’s inauguration and into the first summer of his presidency before formally joining Trump’s team. She started hosting a “real news” update on social media, touting Trump’s accomplishments. She quickly climbed the ranks of Trumpworld, serving as spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, then for the Trump campaign, where she led weekly Bible studies. On April 7, 2020, she received her official post at the White House. Now when she appeared on CNN, she was cast as a bête noire: no longer part of the family of contributors, but fully available for pillorying.
Last summer, Chris Cuomo brought McEnany on his show for a segment with Jennifer Granholm, the former governor of Michigan, after Trump said that a group of progressive congresswomen should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” As the women yelled over each other, Cuomo wore a satisfied smirk. “Continue the banter,” he said, gesturing like an orchestra conductor. A month later, as Cuomo repeatedly demanded in a different segment that McEnany admit Trump has lied to the American people, she looked defeated.“The fake-news media lies,” she said, over and over. “I don’t need any prizes from the fake-news media.”