The untold truth of Kellyanne Conway

She's Kellyanne Conway—pollster, GOP activist and Donald Trump's former campaign manager-turned-counselor. But who exactly is Conway, and what do we really know about her? Let's take a look at how she got where she is today.

She's a professional pollster

Since receiving her law degree in 1992, Conway has worked as a professional pollster and political adviser. She launched her career with GOP polling firm Wirthlin Group and founded her own business, The Polling Company, in 1995. One area of her firm, WomanTrend, specializes in tailoring messages to appeal to women. 

Conway and her company have advised many different clients, including American Express and the National Rifle Association. Several political figures — particularly those in need of more female support in the electorate — have also chosen Conway to advise them, including Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle, and Trump's running-mate — Indiana Governor-turned Vice President Mike Pence.

Conway has also been influential in reshaping the messaging of the anti-abortion movement, advising conservatives to appeal to people's emotions in their messaging. Part of her work included advising anti-abortion male Republicans to describe their emotional states upon seeing ultrasound images of their children for the first time. Explaining her strategies in July 2015, Conway told The New York Times, "The out-of-sight, out-of-mind mantra that propelled the pro-choice movement for decades is forever gone." 

She uses child psychology tricks on Trump

People call Conway the "Trump whisperer." While she hasn't completely succeeded in getting the president to completely back down from his controversial statements and Twitter rants, she was successful in softening his image with women in the weeks leading up to the election. This is evidenced by exit polls, which show 61 percent of white women with no college degree voted for the real-estate magnate over Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. How does she control Trump?

Child psychology, of course. As parents of young children know, it's usually more effective to offer kids choices than to try to tell them what to do. Conway illustrated that point to The Washington Post with an anecdote about her daughter wanting to wear turquoise instead of blue on Memorial Day. The publication said uses the same methods to communicate with Trump: "Never command. That could insult him. Always make suggestions, backed with information in 10-second soundbites."

She can't stand the Clintons

Conway and her husband, George, have been involved in lawsuits and other attacks directed at Bill and Hillary Clinton for decades. Conway has attacked the Clintons as a conservative commentator on TV shows for years. George worked on the Paula Jones case against President Clinton and even wrote an important brief for the Supreme Court arguing that a sitting president could still face a lawsuit while in office. The court agreed, paving the way for the infamous Jones trial to go forward. That trial gave us the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the eventual impeachment proceeding. Ironically, the precedent set by that legal decision means that Trump can now be taken to court for any of the dozens of pending lawsuits against him.

She's known Trump for years

Conway met Trump in 2006 when she was a resident of Trump World Tower in Manhattan. She even served on the condominium board, and told The Washington Post that Trump "seemed surprisingly hands-on, showing up at meetings to hear the residents' concerns."

Trump and Conway stayed in touch, and Trump reportedly called Conway occasionally to ask her opinion on various issues. Obviously, that relationship continued to deepen. These two even spend time together outside the "office." In early December 2016, president-elect Trump and Conway attended a costume party on Long Island. While Trump didn't wear a costume, he was spotted posing with Conway, who was dressed as Superwoman.

She's very critical of Mitt Romney

Don't think just because you're a Republican that Conway will be on your side. She has not hesitated to call out former Massachusetts governor and former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. 

When rumors began circulating that Romney was vying for a position as secretary of state under President Trump, Conway made it clear that wasn't going to happen. In fact, she went out of her way to draw attention to the backlash against Romney. "It's just breathtaking in scope and intensity the type of messages I've received from all over the country … the number of people who feel betrayed to think that Gov. Romney would get the most prominent Cabinet post after he went so far out of his way to hurt Donald Trump," she said on CNN's State of the Union.

Trump named Exxon executive Rex Tillerson to the post, instead.

Her relationship with Bill Maher is testy, to say the least

It might surprise you to learn that in the '90s, Conway frequently appeared on the Comedy Central talk show Politically Incorrect, hosted by comedian—and staunch Democrat—Bill Maher. While the two still appear to be friendly on the surface, the truth is a bit more complicated. 

Conway reportedly left Politically Incorrect after she supposedly grew tired of Maher's critical comments about Catholicism. When The New Yorker asked Maher about it, he couldn't recall the disagreement. "I've blocked it out, like an uncle who molested me," he said, adding that Conway and the rest of Trump's team deserve "a Nobel Prize in hypocrisy."

Some 20 years after their last appearance together on Politically Incorrect, Conway appeared on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher in September 2016. Maher introduced her as his longtime "friend." The appearance was surprising, because Trump himself has never been on good terms with Maher — he even sued Maher for $5 million over a joke. Conway and Maher's exchange on Real Time was overwhelmingly cordial, but the pair definitely traded some barbs. Maher told Conway that she was "enabling pure evil" by serving as Trump's campaign manager. Conway shot back that the Democrats were "stuck with a lemon." 

FAIR and balanced?

Conway has been involved with some controversial alt-right and anti-immigration groups over the years.

 In 2015, her company conducted a poll on behalf of the Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim think tank run by conservative conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. According to the organization's website, Conway has been involved with the group since at least 1998. Trump cited that poll to support his proposal to ban Muslims entering the United States.

In addition, Conway and her company have long been associated with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) — an organization labeled as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2008. FAIR denies that label. According to FAIR President Dan Stein, "FAIR began working with Kellyanne Conway as far back as 1996, and we have used her for polling virtually every year since then." It should come as no surprise that FAIR's leadership seems quite pleased that Conway is involved in the Trump administration. "We take it as a certain amount of personal pride … she was possessed of intimate professional knowledge of the immigration issue as it related to the voter concerns. And we saw that influence helping to shape Donald Trump's positions and statements once she came on board."

She didn't always support Trump

When Trump originally approached Conway about a position in his campaign in March 2015, she reportedly turned him down and opted to to work for a super-PAC on behalf of Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz. During her time there, the PAC launched attack ads against Trump, including one that claimed Trump supported universal health care. After Cruz's Republican primary bid fell apart, Conway came aboard as an adviser for Trump in July 2016, eventually replacing Paul Manafort as Trump's campaign manager. (Manafort was sidelined over allegations of secret payments from pro-Russian groups in the Ukraine.)

She has divisive views about feminism

When Conway was appointed as Trump's campaign manager in August 2016, she became the first female to run a Republican presidential campaign. While Trump lauded Conway as "an expert on female consumers and female voters," Conway downplayed her gender's significance, telling The New Yorker, "I tell people all the time, 'Don't be fooled, because I am a man by day." Her statement raised some eyebrows, considering Conway must consider herself something of an expert — she wrote a book called What Women Really Want.

Conway has been criticized for seemingly downplaying feminism on muliple occasions. In a speech to the Conservative Women's Network in 2011, Conway called feminism "doom and gloom," and argued that "revulsion towards men in your life" is "part and parcel of the feminist movement." She also claimed "femininity is replacing feminism as a leading attribute for American women" and that "if women want to be taken seriously in the workforce, looking feminine is a good place to start."

Despite her divisive opinions on feminism, it appears that adding her to the Trump campaign did increase his appeal among many female voters. As Republican strategist Katie Packer put it, "[Conway] has created a niche where candidates can check a box and say, well, they've got a woman advising them." The strategy apparently worked because 53 percent of white women voted for Trump in the 2016 general election.

She didn't think Trump was going to win

According to Michael Woolf's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, few folks on the Trump campaign — including Trump — thought he was actually going to win. 

According to Wolff, on election day 2016, Conway spent the day making calls to her political allies, blaming what she believed to be an impending loss on Reince Preibus and planning ahead for a potential future job in cable news. Wolff writes (via New York magazine) that Conway "briefed some of the television producers and anchors with whom she'd built strong relationships, and with whom, actively interviewing in the last few weeks, she was hoping to land a permanent on-air job after the election." 

She has plenty of experience with embattled politicians

Trump isn't the first controversial politician with whom Conway has dealt.

In 2012, Conway was working for the campaign of Missouri Congressman Todd Akin, who shot a blunderbuss in the side of his political aspirations when he made an uninformed comment about pregnancies caused by rape. In case you don't remember, Akin made national news for doubting that a woman could be made pregnant via rape, saying, "if it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down."

Akin's statement drew outrage for a variety of reasons—the presumptuousness, the inaccuracy, the entire premise. Conway, at the time a consultant for the Akin campaign, defended him with an uncomfortable metaphor.

In an interview with the conservative Family Research Council, Conway predicted that Akin would be able to weather the controversy, comparing his resolve to that of embattled cult leader David Koresh. "The first day or two where it was like the Waco with the David Koresh situation where they're trying to smoke him out with the SWAT teams and the helicopters and the bad Nancy Sinatra records," Conway said. "Then here comes day two and you realize the guy's not coming out of the bunker. Listen, Todd has shown his principle to the voters."

Akin lost in a landslide, and Koresh, of course, never made it out of that bunker. Maybe the metaphor is more fitting than we thought.

Before politics, there was produce

Before Trump, before the White House, before politics, in general, Conway worked in a much different field—by which we mean, like, literally a field. At the age of 12, she received a special farm worker permit to pursue a job hand-packing up to 300 crates per day of blueberries at a farm outside of Atlantic City, N.J. 

"She worked for eight summers during high school and college," said Bill DiMeo, her first boss, speaking to Inside Edition. "She was a very intensely motivated worker."

By 1987, she was so skilled at packing blueberries that she entered into a blueberry speed-packing contest, which she managed to win—after a recount. She was also runner-up at a "Blueberry Queen" beauty pageant.

She was born to entertain

Even before entering the national conversation as a political figure, Conway had a way of getting herself in the spotlight — sometimes literally.

Around the time of Trump's inauguration, a video was unearthed showing Conway delivering a stand-up comedy set that concluded with an a cappella song. The routine was reportedly recorded at "D.C's Funniest Celebrity Charity Event" in November 1998. In the footage, Conway riffs on the news personalities and current events of the day. Let's just say the clip hasn't aged well, but one thing has — Conway's confidence. 

She is still the same fearless public speaker who is clearly comfortable in front of the camera, no matter the reception.