What a difference a couple of months makes. After the Democratic Convention in July, Donald Trump’s campaign was floundering. Today, he is leading in some polls (with the trend lines looking especially good), and even 538 is imagining a plausible path to an electoral victory (even if he loses the popular vote).
Back in early August, I wrote a piece on “How Trump Could Get His Groove Back.” My advice was promptly ignored—until, a couple weeks later, a campaign shakeup brought Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway into the role as campaign manager.
Trump still occasionally strays off message, but there is little doubt that he is much less erratic. What this has done is allow Trump to capitalize on Clinton’s vulnerabilities.
In the past, a Clinton stumble would generally be overshadowed by a Trump insult, exaggeration, racist re-Tweet, etc.—anything that would distract from Clinton’s mess and give the press an excuse to change the subject.
Whether we’re talking about Clinton’s comments about “deplorables” or her health scares, we have seen a different Trump response. In the wake of Clinton’s collapse leaving the 9/11 memorial ceremony, Trump appeared on Fox & Friends. Rather than try to score points, he said what any good human would say: “I hope she gets well soon.”
This was smart. For one thing, the media has now been forced to cover the Clinton health story. All criticizing her would do is distract. This is obvious. Yet, until recently, Trump has not been able to maintain such message discipline.
Back to Conway. Nobody knows the inner-workings of a political campaign, but Trump’s General Election “pivot” seems to correlate with her arrival on the scene.
This is not to suggest that his former campaign boss, Paul Manafort, wasn’t giving good advice, but my suspicion is that Conway is a better messenger. For one thing, she’s a pollster—which means that she’s used to providing metrics to buttress her strategic advice.
Conway is also the only person in Trump’s campaign orbit who combines mainstream respect and credibility with conservative bona fides. A well-liked campaign veteran, Conway has had to exist in the real political world, not some parallel universe that some Trump boosters seem to inhabit.
Still, I suspect there’s something else that has allowed her to present a slightly kinder, gentler Donald Trump.
It occurs to me that a woman can say something to a powerful man that is received better than if it had come from a man. Trump, who seems especially interested in demonstrating his alpha male status, might be especially averse to taking orders (or advice) from a male underling.
Is it a coincidence that, before Conway’s arrival on the scene, Ivanka Trump always seemed to be Trump’s best advisor?
If Donald Trump wins, we might well look back at the day he hired Kellyanne Conway and declare that this was the turning point of his campaign.