Can Kellyanne Conway Stop the Trump Train From Going Over a Cliff?
Donald Trump’s new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway is a respected professional in Republican politics—but, her colleagues say, she can only help so much.
Donald Trump is bleeding women voters out of his wherever, hemorrhaging support from this crucial piece of the electorate as fast as he can find new ways to frighten and offend them.
He is losing women nationally and in key battleground states. He’s losing older women and younger women. Minority and white women. In Florida, Trump is trailing Clinton by a massive 30-point deficit. He’s losing Virginia women 56% to 31%. Nationally, his disapproval rating among all women has hovered around the 70% mark since April.
Enter into this abyss GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway, Donald Trump’s newly tapped campaign manager who, along with Breitbart News’ Steve Bannon, was brought on board full time this week to helm the struggling Trump campaign. Conway is well known in Washington, D.C., and New York political circles as everything Trump The Candidate is not—a level-headed, professional, responsive, conservative with an expertise in winning over women voters. Her roster of clients includes conservative heavyweights like Mike Pence, Newt Gingrich, the late Jack Kemp and Fred Thompson.
Earlier this year, Conway ran Keep the Promise PAC, the multimillion-dollar effort to elect Sen. Ted Cruz president and, in the process, defeat Donald Trump in the GOP primary. Through that super PAC, Conway gained what might be her most valuable asset in Republicans’ goal to beat Hillary Clinton—experience in the best ways to attack Trump, especially among female voters.
In an interview with The Daily Beast in January, Conway said she’d found the most powerful ammunition in an attack against Trump among GOP women were the man’s own oscillating words, gleaned from decades of loud-mouthery and laid against his new political persona. The result was a series of blistering attack ads featuring Trump in his own words and taking him to task for flip-flopping over the years on the core issues of abortion and single payer health care.
“For women seeing is believing and when they hear Donald Trump in his own words, they can make a clear-headed decision about, ‘Will the real Donald Trump please stand up?’” Conway said at the time.
In her efforts to promote Cruz, said she also found that Trump had dangerously mixed results with women voters with his combative tone.
“For every woman who is attracted to Trump as the non-political outsider, there are two or three women who say, ‘I don’t like bullies or gratuitous attacks that are more personal than philosophical,’” Conway said.
Trump won the GOP primary, of course, but Cruz and the KTP PACs’ efforts came closest to stopping him.
Fast-forward to August and Conway now sits at the top of Trump’s campaign, better positioned than anyone in the country to anticipate the attacks that will come against Trump in the fall and how to at least stop the bleeding now, especially among women voters.
But even among Republicans who know and like Conway, the consensus seems to be that even she may be powerless to rescue Trump's campaign and rehab his toxic relationship with women, the very group Conway has built a career understanding and reaching.
“Look, Kellyanne is great, but she’s not a miracle worker,” said a Republican who worked with several GOP campaigns in 2012.That was the year another one of Conway’s clients, former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), blew up many of his colleagues re-election chances when he offered his mind-boggling concept of “legitimate rape.”
Amber Marchand, the former spokeswoman for the National Senatorial Campaign Committee who was working in Missouri GOP politics during the Akin catastrophe, said a staff shakeup does nothing to change the real problem, which is Trump himself.
“Even the best staffers can't convince voters to support an out of touch candidate who has alienated broad swaths of the electorate with insulting and intolerant rhetoric,” Marchand said.
Katie Packer Gage, Mitt Romney’s deputy campaign manager in 2012 who also works with Republicans to reach women voters, said that just having a woman in charge of Trump’s campaign won’t change his limited appeal, even to women.
“It's important to have a candidate that is interested in appealing to women voters and to have women at the table who can deliver the candidate’s message to the women the GOP needs to attract,” Gage said. “Trump is and does neither.”
Gage called Conway “a nice, smart, good person,” but added, “Her active defense of Todd Akin in 2012 showed a tin ear with regard to the kind of general election voters, especially women, that the GOP needs to appeal to in order to win a general election.”
According to a Washington Post profile, Conway and Trump first met when Conway sat on the condo board of Trump World Tower in 2006. They remained in touch through the years when Trump would call Conway after seeing her on cable news. Although she led a Ted Cruz-aligned super PAC in 2016 that aggressively opposed Trump, she joined a super PAC supporting Trump shortly after Cruz suspended his campaign.
While Steve Bannon will bring an aggressive ideological voice to the new regime at Trump Tower, Conway is expected to play the Voice of Reason at the top of campaign leadership. She will reportedly travel with Trump and offer assurances to movement conservatives and Hill Republicans alike that Team Trump may actually be professionalizing operations, even with a bomb-thrower like Bannon inside the tent, too.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the influential pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said she’s known and respected Conway her entire professional life. “No one is better at understanding what real people are thinking and how to connect with them than Kellyanne,” she said.
Newt Gingrich told Fox News Radio that the Trump hires of Bannon and Conway would strengthen Trump’s effort. “She will bring a, I think again, a very aggressive tough-minded approach, fact-based policy approach to it.”
Like Trump, Gingrich brought Conway aboard his presidential campaign in 2011 after a campaign near-death spiral and staff shake-up. Although the Gingrich campaign fared far better with Conway than without her, as Republicans warned of her chances with Trump, she wasn’t a miracle worker. Gingrich dropped out of the race more than $4 million in debt, including a debt to Conway that he still hasn’t repaid.