Conway eyes top spot in Trump's outside political operation

Conway eyes top spot in Trump's outside political operation
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Kellyanne Conway is considering taking the helm of the external political operation that will support Donald Trump during his tenure as president, according to sources familiar with the private deliberations.

Just as President Obama’s outside organization became a powerful force in progressive politics, Trump’s infrastructure could become a dominant force on the right. What becomes of this group — and who runs it — is one of the hottest topics of conversation circulating the D.C. Republican scene.

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Trump’s outside infrastructure is likely to involve Republican mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, the data firm Cambridge Analytica — in which the Mercers hold a financial stake — and, possibly, Conway, sources have told The Hill.

Other key personnel likely to be involved should Trump decide to give Conway the reins include Brad Parscale, Trump's campaign digital director; Brett Loyd, a colleague of Conway's at her polling company; and consultant Jay Connaughton.

Conway, who served as Trump’s campaign manager and a frequent cable TV surrogate, didn’t deny these plans were afoot when The Hill approached her for comment. But she said no final decisions have been made.

“Most accurately that is under active consideration, along with a tour of duty in the Oval,” Conway told The Hill Wednesday afternoon.

Conway, a polling expert with longstanding connections to the conservative grassroots, is also under consideration for White House press secretary or communications director. Another possibility is to assume a more broadly defined strategic role, as Karl Rove did for President George W. Bush and George Stephanopoulos did in Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMueller’s probe doesn't end with a bang, but with a whimper Mark Mellman: History’s judgment Congress should massively ramp up funding for the NIH MORE's White House.

The decision of who runs the outside group will ultimately be Trump's. But D.C.'s consulting class is paying close attention, and some are nervous that the new group could peel donors away from more established entities.

Senior Obama adviser David Plouffe — who served as 2008 campaign manager then blended inside and outside assistance — is a model Conway has studied.

Responding to questions from The Hill, Conway described such an outside group as “potent and necessary.”

The group would combine advertising support, door knocking and other grassroots activities to support Trump and his legislative agenda. It would play defense when necessary, push key pieces of legislation such as the ObamaCare repeal and help in major fights such as the coming battle over the Supreme Court vacancy.

Conway said it would be important to install someone in the leadership role “who has the trust of the president-elect, grassroots, donors, and Capitol Hill.”

“What Plouffe did with Organizing for America was impressive,” she added, referring to the outside group Obama announced in January 2009 as the machine to continue the grassroots network he built during his historic campaign.

Given the extent of Trump’s grassroots support and small-dollar donor base, his outside group has the potential to rival such organizations as the conservative donor network painstakingly built over many years by the billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Major Republican donors tend to prefer a single, validated place to park their money. Conway has ties both to the conservative movement and to a good number of the party's emergent donor class.

The pro-Trump outside group would be able to tap wealthy donors who are now eager to curry favor with the incoming president. Already, as The Washington Post reported on Tuesday, the fundraising committee for Trump’s inaugural festivities is offering exclusive access — including lunches and a “candlelight dinner” — to Trump, Pence and other top officials, in exchange for high-dollar donations.

These donors could form the nuclei of the outside infrastructure.

Still more lucratively, the outside group has the potential to tap the enormous presidential donors list and the ultimate funding asset: President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE himself.

Conway has the advantage of being close to not only the president-elect but to two of his most favored allies: chief strategist Stephen Bannon and Mercer.

She's also close to Vice President-elect Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence allies worried he'll be called to answer questions from Mueller: report Trump thought it was ‘low class’ for Pence to bring pets to VP residence: report Pence told RNC he could replace Trump on ticket after 'Access Hollywood' tape came out: report MORE and his senior adviser, Marc Short. Conway was among a small group that had kitchen-cabinet conversations in early 2015 to discuss a Pence presidential run. 

Mercer, the daughter of New York hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is an obvious choice to play a key role in the outside infrastructure. Sources who know her well say Mercer has contempt for the Republican Party and has long sought to build her own operations that challenge the D.C. establishment.

The Mercers have accomplished that to some extent in their partnership with Bannon, the former chairman of the right-wing website Breitbart News. And she’s done in it in a technical capacity through the family’s financial stake in the data company Cambridge Analytica, which worked first with Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDebbie Wasserman Schultz marks 10 years as breast cancer survivor Foreign agent registration is no magical shield against Russian propaganda Let Trump be Trump and he'll sail through 2020 MORE's (R-Texas) presidential campaign and then later the Trump campaign. The Mercers, like Bannon, believe the two-party system is corrupt and are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to take down the D.C. establishment.

Despite what’s being said by sources briefed on discussions, Conway told The Hill it’s wrong to conclude that she’s already ruled out a job inside the Trump White House.

“Unimportant! Why am I a topic at all?” she told The Hill in a text message. “I like what someone told the NYT; that I will have the ‘Kellyanne’ role.”

Conway was referring to Tuesday's article by New York Times reporters Michael Shear and Maggie Haberman that read, "Her allies describe her job as 'the Kellyanne role,' a position in which the precise title does not completely capture the duties she is performing or the sway she has."

Conway said, “The President-elect and I have made no final decisions about whether my highest and best use for him and his administration is inside or outside.”

“We have discussed this,” she added, “and I’ve made clear that he has more pressing priorities than my title.

“Either way, I will continue to be a very close adviser to him and enthusiastic supporter of his presidency."