Competing Power Circles Emerge in Trump WH Staff
President-elect Donald Trump continued filling out his senior staff on Thursday, reinforcing the perception that his White House will contain two competing circles of power with his appointments of Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer.
Conway, the campaign manager who helped keep Trump on message and was a key contributor to his election victory, will be counselor to the president while Spicer, a longtime GOP insider who spent years at the Republican National Committee, will be White House press secretary.
The incoming president also named Jason Miller as communications director, Hope Hicks as director of strategic communications, and Dan Scavino as director of social media.
The announcements follow weeks of rumored infighting among aides over who would get what positions in the administration. There were concerns among Trump loyalists that incoming Chief of Staff Reince Priebus would fill key jobs with GOP insiders with ties to him, pushing out those staffers who had been part of the campaign early on and battling at Trump’s side during the tough primary fight.
Conway is such a loyalist. She is close to Steve Bannon, the conservative strategist who will be chief strategist and senior counselor, while Spicer is tight with Priebus.
And all eyes will be on those relationships as the two men compete for spheres of influence in the administration.
“If you’re looking at who is going to be the voting bloc, I’d say the Steve-Kellyanne dynamic will be closer than Reince-Kellyanne because of their history,” said one person who worked on the Trump campaign.
Conway and Bannon both joined Team Trump this past summer – Conway in July and Bannon in August. She became campaign manager the month he arrived, righting the ship after the departure of Paul Manafort.
She became close to the GOP nominee, going on TV often to defend him. She has won his trust.
“She is a tireless and tenacious advocate of my agenda and has amazing insights on how to effectively communicate our message,” Trump said in his statement announcing her appointment. “I am pleased that she will be part of my senior team in the West Wing.”
She is also one of the few people in Trump’s world who can tell him no.
“She has a unique relationship with the president-elect. He completely trusts her. She tells him bad news,” the former campaign staffer said.
Conway also has shown her willingness to battle Priebus. When Mitt Romney was said to be under consideration for secretary of state, she publicly questioned why Trump would appoint someone who had been so critical of his campaign.
She told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that those who voted for Trump would feel “betrayed” if he appointed Romney.
Priebus and Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, were reportedly furious with her but Trump offered her a position in his White House as press secretary – a job she turned down and that went to Spicer.
Spicer is a longtime party insider, having worked at the RNC since 2011, the same year Priebus became party chairman.
As press secretary he will be the public face of the administration but he may find a rival in Conway. She has been a frequent presence on TV during transition process, speaking for Trump.
Her portfolio for the White House not been announced. On a Thursday morning call with reporters, Spicer indicated Conway will work on legislative issues, although he noted she also will work on communications strategy.
“In her position Kellyanne will continue her role as a close adviser to the president-elect and work with senior leadership to effectively message and execute the administration’s legislative priorities and actions,” he said. “She has amazing insight that will allow her to effectively communicate the administration’s message as part of the senior team in the West Wing.”
But Conway told CNN Thursday morning that the job "portfolio will be whatever the president wants it to be."
"It is likely to include communications, and is likely to include data and strategy," she said.
Conway will be the highest ranking woman in the White House.
She compared her role to the one Karen Hughes played in the George W. Bush White House.
And, on Fox News Thursday morning, she praised Bannon, Priebus, Kushner and other staff for their work in the transition and their upcoming roles in the administration.
“I’m there to support them,” she said.
The Trump team pointed out her historic role in announcing the appointment, taking a dig at Hillary Clinton’s campaign talk of shattering a glass ceiling.
“President-elect Trump's victory on November 8th also shattered the glass ceiling for women,” the transition team wrote in its announcement of Conway’s new role. “Conway is the first female campaign manager of either major party to win a presidential general election.”
But the longtime pollster and strategist was on message during her interviews Thursday morning, deflecting praise from herself and praising Trump.
“I get a ton of credit for what was a great team,” Conway said on Fox News. “But there’s no substitute for a quality candidate. He’s a master connector, master communicator. It made all the difference.”