Donald Trump announced on Wednesday that he is yet again shaking up his staff, promoting former campaign pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager.
Trump hired Conway in early July to serve as a “data and messaging expert” and to help his campaign woo women, a necessary effort given that national polls consistently show that seven in ten women have an unfavorable opinion of the Republican nominee. Conway counts among her previous clients 2012 Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin who famously claimed that women can’t get pregnant during a rape because their bodies “shut the whole thing down.”
A former Washington lawyer who most recently ran a pro-Ted Cruz super PAC, Conway brings experience to the campaign in advising men on how to talk about women. She has said that her role as polling strategist has been to soften Trump and to move him away from flinging insults at women. She frequently appears on TV to declare that despite the abysmal polls, Trump will in fact win over female voters with his commitment to securing the borders and creating jobs.
By bumping Conway to campaign manager, the campaign is displaying an even more aggressive push to appeal to women. The move comes amidst a tough month for the nominee when it comes to women — last month, a woman went public with her allegations of sexual assault against Trump, and just yesterday, the campaign brought on as adviser Roger Ailes, who was ousted from Fox News amid sexual harassment allegations.
Corey Lewandowski, who previously served as campaign manager and now works for CNN, said Wednesday that Conway will be able to help Trump appeal to half the population by virtue of being a woman.
“It’s important that Kellyanne is with him as often as possible,” he said. “Number one, it’s a woman. He needs a high-profile woman he can listen to and understand what the gender gap is… She also brings a sense of calmness to Donald Trump.”
According to the Washington Post, the “calmness” Conway brings stems from her ability to treat Trump like a child and to avoid commanding or insulting him. Through Conway, Trump has learned to appear more empathetic and to respond to tragedies with calls for “love and compassion,” the Post reports.
Conway has focused for decades on how the GOP can attract more women. Early in her career, she worked for Ronald Reagan’s pollster, and then after graduating from law school, she founded The Polling Company/WomanTrend, a research and consulting firm that works to “better connect corporate America with the female consumer.” She has also co-authored a book on “What Women Really Want” and has directed that knowledge into politics. In 2012, she worked for Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign, led Cruz’s super PAC, Keep The Promise, and advised Indiana governor and vice presidential nominee Mike Pence.
Through her efforts to be a voice for conservative women, Conway has also generated a good deal of controversy. There were Akin’s comments, which effectively ended his Senate bid. And in 2011, she said in a speech to conservative female voters that women should embrace “femininity” not “feminism.”
She’s staunchly anti-choice and has been alarmed by Trump’s changing position on abortion. But issues like reproductive rights do not sway female voters, she claims. “We need to address women from the waist up,” she told the Post.
No Republican candidate since before 1980 has polled as low as Trump with women and won the election. With less than three months until the election and even less time for Trump to turn his campaign around, time is running out for Conway to sharpen his message.