The recent promotion of Kellyanne Conway to new campaign manager ushers in the third and likely final phase in Donald Trump’s inconceivable bid for the White House.
Corey Lewandowski, now a commentator on CNN, was hired by Donald Trump in February 2015 and represented the well-received motto in the Republican Party base: “Let Trump be Trump.” That strategy clicked with Republican voters in the primaries, where Trump out-maneuvered and out-insulted his primary challengers.
Then Lewandowski was accused of “manhandling” former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields and was named in a Florida lawsuit. His campaign responsibilities were narrowed — and Trump turned elsewhere.
When it became clear the candidate would face a serious challenge from unsympathetic delegates and party officials at the Republican National Convention, he looked for a more politically savvy staffer. Paul Manafort was hired in March 2016.
Manafort helped secure him the nomination and brought in a new phase: teleprompter use and somewhat more serious foreign and domestic policy speeches, so Trump could appeal to a wider Republican contingent. Then came the Russian-Ukrainian debacles — and Manafort had to go.
Questions have been raised about the rigor of Trump's vetting process, raising concerns of the type of conflicts we might see in a Trump administration.
Conway, Trump’s newest campaign manager, is already attempting to soften Trump’s image in the press. A deportation force in a Trump administration is now “TBD,” according to Conway.
On MSNBC, she looked to ease the apprehension women have about Trump: “This is a man who just promoted a woman without using the word. I think you should judge people by their actions, not just their words on a political campaign trail.”
In a presidential campaign, all voters have to illustrate what a candidate stands for and believes in are "words" -- being held accountable for them is central to the job Trump is vying for. To suggest otherwise is to reject a fundamental tenet of leadership, an odd notion for a campaign manager.
Still, Conway’s promotion makes sense, as she is well respected in conservative Republican circles, having worked for Newt Gingrich and Mike Pence. She also has strong relationships with a number of important GOP donors.
Were these hiring phases expected by Trump and his inner-family circle? Or did past and present actions of his first two top staff members force Trump’s hand?
Lewandowski probably didn’t have the experience or political breadth to mount a delegate-wrangling push, but he also got Trump through a heavily contested primary cycle against all odds. Lewandowski’s brash style was clear to all, but a physical altercation was unexpected.
Trump must have known about Manafort’s dealings with pro-Russian Ukrainians, but he might not have known about the off-the-books, mob-like ledgers exhibiting his name.
Conway, as a new public face of the Trump campaign, faces an uphill battle against the GOP establishment, a far more sophisticated Hillary Clinton campaign, and polls that show Trump with a slim chance of winning in November.
One thing we can be relatively sure of -- Conway will chug this one out until the end.