I started following the writing of Salena Zito when I first heard her famous epigram regarding Donald Trump during the campaign:
The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally
I thought that this was one of the most insightful lines about the election. I’ve since seen her several times on TV, she’s very sharp. She’s also an old-fashioned reporter, going out and talking to people, not doing it by phone and online research and email.
As a result I was not surprised to see Ms. Zito’s long, detailed, and sage interview with one of my modern heroes. Everyone needs heroes in this world, people whose lives and actions you respect and look up to.
Now, the Donald is far from being one of my heroes. He’s like me, far too visibly flawed. Who are my heroes? Nikolai Tesla. Ada Lovelace. Ernest Shackleton. In modern times? Dr. Bill Gray. Rosa Parks. Jerry Rice. My grandmother, the Captain’s Daughter. Dr. Ben Carson.
Anyhow, Ms. Zito interviewed another hero of mine. That would be the first woman to ever run a successful Presidential Campaign, Kellyanne Conway. I was glad to see the interview, because in my view she has not gotten the recognition that she deserves. I’d been happy when I read a couple weeks ago that she’d been appointed as Special Advisor to the President, and she would not be going back to private business.
I urge you to read Salena Zito’s whole piece, but I wanted to comment on a couple of parts. First, how Kellyanne Conway got the job:
“The worst day of the campaign was the day before I became the campaign manager. It was Aug. 11, it was a Thursday, and I went out on the road with Gov. Pence, who I adore, who has been a client and a friend of mine for 10 years,” she says.
Conway describes in detail a creeping malaise that filled the organization, and people wondering aloud, “Is it worth it? Can we win? What is going on? What are they meeting about? Why did he say that? Who is in charge?”
At the time, Manafort, Trump’s second campaign manager after Corey Lewandowski, reportedly didn’t get on with the candidate, and there was dark talk about political work he had done in Ukraine.
… The next day Conway was back in Trump Tower, helping with a video shoot in which Trump “was doing different commercials and appeals and videotaped messages to groups that were holding meetings that he could not attend.” They had been working on it for an hour or so and were about to leave for Pennsylvania when Trump asked everyone but her to leave the room.
After the others had gone, Conway asked Trump what was going on. “You are running against the most joyless person in presidential political history,” she told the candidate, “and you don’t look like you are having fun anymore.”
That is a brilliant insight. Nobody will follow someone who’s not enjoying what they’re doing. If it wasn’t fun, it wasn’t going to get done. She followed it with this:
Conway then gave Trump her thoughts about how he could win, and about the issues and messaging it would require.
“He already knew that. His instincts are excellent,” she says. “He had already built a movement, but he needed to have some people around him who create the right environment.
“So how did we leverage that into a campaign strategy? And, conversely, as I said to him on that first day, ‘Let’s see who Hillary Clinton is not, nor ever can be, and let’s try to do it and be it.’ “
Again, to me, that shows a profound understanding of the fight at hand. He needed to become the anti-Hillary, loose where she was tight, animated where she was scripted, aggressive where she was defensive, all of the things she wasn’t and couldn’t be.
In any case, Trump hired her to run his campaign right then and there. One thing everyone says about Trump is that he picks good people, and she certainly did a brilliant job. (In private life she has a law degree and four young children and a very successful polling firm hired by companies and politicians answering questions about social, business, and political trends).
Finally, and most revealing, is her description of her current role in the Administration.
Conway serves in a role that few people consider possible, let alone would want to take, and that is Trump’s “no man.” She believes every leader needs someone who can tell them when they have a bad idea and can stop it.
Great leaders, she says, always have someone in the room who can tell them “no,” and Conway says she does that, although others believe she sugarcoats things.
“It is actually the opposite. I think, because of our relationship and how much I respect him, that allows me to deliver a crisp message when I feel like it is in his best interest. You can do that respectfully, as long as it is accurate, smart and relevant.”
I give big props to two people in that. First, to Kellyanne Conway for being solid and smart and compassionate enough to be able to say “No” to the Donald and have him pay attention to her …
… and second, to Trump for being smart enough to know that every leader desperately needs someone around them who is totally free to speak truth to power. Trump is a canny old buzzard who has always surrounded himself with women in his business ventures. He prefers them, he’s said, because they’re tougher and more realistic than men … I can only agree.
I think the other unsaid reason is that Trump can bear a woman telling him “no” more easily than he can take a man telling him “no”. And now he’s in a funny situation. The woman in his life who usually has the job of telling him “no”, his daughter Ivanka, is going to be at a bit of a distance. So he needs Kellyanne Conway more than ever, and fortunately, he obviously knows it.
And I gotta say, if I were to nominate someone for the job, it would be her. Not only has she proven she can handle it, she deserves it for her accomplishments.
Anyhow, read Salena Zito’s piece, it’s a wonderful adventure in interview journalism.