It took a few weeks, but the Trump administration finally formalized a role for campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. Rather than run an organization outside of the White House to support Donald Trump’s agenda, Conway will serve instead as “counselor to the president”:
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) December 22, 2016
CNN put the job in a historical perspective:
“In her position, Conway will continue her role as a close adviser to the President and will work with senior leadership to effectively message and execute the Administration’s legislative priorities and actions,” the Trump transition said in a statement.
Conway’s role would be similar to Karen Hughes’ position in the Bush 43 administration — placing her close to the President, and handing her responsibility for much of the big-picture communication duties for the White House, a transition source told CNN’s Jim Acosta.
The source drew parallels between Conway and Hughes, and also compared Trump’s chief strategist Stephen Bannon to Bush’s political maven Karl Rove, and chief of staff Reince Priebus to his Bush counterpart, Andy Card.
Why reach that far back? It’s also the same kind of arrangement that Barack Obama had in his first term with Valerie Jarrett, David Axelrod, and Rahm Emanuel, and now has with Jarrett, Shailagh Murray, and Denis McDonough. It’s common enough to bring trusted campaign advisers into the White House in formal advisory roles. Given Conway’s success in imposing some discipline on the Trump campaign while seemingly excelling as the “Trump whisperer,” it’s a smart move on Trump’s part.
Conway did well to wait for this kind of key role in policy direction, too. It’s a better fit than press secretary, although she has been one of Trump’s most effective surrogates. It’s certainly a better idea than the trial balloon floated out a couple of weeks ago about running an outside organization on behalf of the Trump agenda. If Trump goes the Obama-OFA route, someone less critical to his operation can run that, especially since it’s not likely to be all that effective anyway.
Now that Conway has been ensconced in the White House, though, there may be one dynamic that changes from the Bush and Obama models. In the past, it’s been the political director who’s done the talking-head shows and gotten the TV airtime — Axelrod especially for Obama and Rove for Bush — while the counselor kept a relatively low profile. Hughes and Jarrett did some appearances, but Axelrod and Rove were regulars on the circuit. Given Conway’s alacrity on TV and the negatives surrounding Stephen Bannon, we’ll probably see a lot more of the counselor than the political director, at least for a while — plus as much Reince Priebus as his schedule allows.