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Campaign manager faces tough job taming Trump

Ms Conway (above) initially had success reining in Mr Trump, but her effect on him may be wearing off, as evidenced by the 3am Twitter attack the Republican nominee launched on former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado.
Ms Conway (above) initially had success reining in Mr Trump, but her effect on him may be wearing off, as evidenced by the 3am Twitter attack the Republican nominee launched on former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Ms Kellyanne Conway, a pollster and political commentator, believes the Republican Party should treat women with more respect.

But as campaign manager for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, she has found herself having to defend him, most recently against a rash of allegations by women who accuse him of groping and forcing himself on them.

For a while after the 49-year-old mother of four took on the job in August, she managed to rein in the brash businessman. He started using a teleprompter, gave serious policy addresses, and even expressed regret for some of the things he had said during the campaign.

But her effect on him might be wearing off, as evidenced by the 3am Twitter attack Mr Trump launched on former Miss Universe winner Alicia Machado, who claimed he had called her "Miss Piggy" after she gained weight.

Though Ms Conway said in interviews that she had reprimanded Mr Trump for his comments about women, it did not stop him from calling Ms Machado a "con" and "disgusting" in his tweets.

Ms Conway has also spent much of her time defending Mr Trump on cable networks.

Ms Conway believes Republicans cannot treat women as a mere interest group and limit their pitches to women voters through subjects like reproductive rights... She told Time magazine in 2014 that the Republican Party should not talk to women "from the waist down". "Most women say, please speak to them from the waist up: my brain, my eyes," she said.

When she was last on CNN on Wednesday, she was asked to comment on Mr Trump saying he could get away with going backstage before a pageant where he would see "incredible-looking women".

She defended her candidate by attacking his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton's treatment of women instead.

"All you want to do is talk about something he said 10, 15 years ago, and yet we never want to talk about the women who were shamed and blamed by Hillary Clinton because they had sexual contact with her husband," said Ms Conway.

And when she was asked about Mr Trump intending to jail Mrs Clinton - a comment that came up in the second debate - she tried to brush it off by saying: "No he's not. You're taking it literally."

Ms Conway is no stranger to clients who make controversial statements about women. In 2012, she worked for then Missouri congressman Todd Akin whose comments on "legitimate rape" had frittered away his chances of re-election.

To prevent other Republicans from repeating such mistakes, Time magazine reported that Ms Conway was brought in to speak to a group of House Republicans at a golf resort. Her advice: stop talking about rape. She said the "four-letter word" had no place in political campaigns as it just gave credence to the Democrats' claim that Republicans were waging a "war on women".

Ms Conway, who co-authored a book in 2005 titled What Women Really Want, believes Republicans cannot treat women as a mere interest group and limit their pitches to women voters through subjects like reproductive rights.

Her co-author, Democratic pollster Celinda Lake, said: "In our book, we identified religious women, senior survivors, suburban caretakers and waitress mums, among others, that I would think would be targets for Trump."

Ms Conway told Time magazine in 2014 that the Republican Party should not talk to women "from the waist down". "Most women say, please speak to them from the waist up: my brain, my eyes," said Ms Conway, who runs her own polling firm.

Among her clients are former House speaker Newt Gingrich, Indiana governor and Mr Trump's running mate Mike Pence and Texas Senator Ted Cruz.

"She has thought more about the concerns of women than any other Republican I know," Mr Gingrich told Time magazine.

Perhaps Ms Conway's deep understanding of women started at home. Her father, a truck driver, and her mother, who worked in a casino, were divorced before she was two, and she was raised by her mother, her grandmother and two unmarried aunts in New Jersey.

Politics was never a big part of family discussions, but she discovered it in high school in 1984 when she wrote about the Democratic and Republican national conventions for a local paper.

When she saw then President Ronald Reagan's speech, she told The New Yorker, she knew she was a Republican.

"He really touched me," she said. "I liked the more uplifting, aspirational, yet tough-guy kind of thing."

Interestingly, Ms Conway has not always batted for Team Trump.

At the start of this election cycle, she worked with a super PAC, or political action committee, supporting Mr Cruz, and it was only after he bowed out of the race that she became a senior adviser to Mr Trump. Only later did she become his third campaign manager.

Ms Lake said: "She could be a great help to Trump if he listens to her."

On Inauguration Day on Jan 20, Ms Conway will turn 50.

Before working for Mr Trump, she promised her family they would make a trip to Italy to celebrate, but now, she hopes to be in the capital instead, she told The New Yorker.

"I'll either be at a fabulous party in Washington DC, or I'll be in Italy," she said. "I can't lose."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2016, with the headline 'Campaign manager faces tough job taming Trump'. Print Edition | Subscribe