The untold truth of Kellyanne Conway

She's Kellyanne Conway—pollster, GOP activist and Donald Trump campaign manager. You've probably seen her on the news frequently over the last year or so as Donald Trump's spokeswoman. On December 22nd, 2016, the President-Elect picked Conway to serve an official role within his administration as "counselor to the President," so it seems we'll be seeing more of Conway over the next four years. But who exactly is Conway, and what do we really know about her? Let's take a look back at how Conway got to where she is today.

She's a professional pollster

Practically since receiving her law degree in 1992, Conway has worked as a professional pollster and political advisor. She began her career with GOP polling firm Wirthlin Group, and went on to found her own business, The Polling Company, in 1995. One area of her firm, WomanTrend, specializes in women's polling and tailoring messages to appeal to women. Since then, Conway and her company have gone on to work for and advise many 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, such as Newt Gingrich, Dan Quayle, and Trump's running-mate—Indiana Governor Mike Pence.

She uses child psychology tricks on Trump

People call Conway the "Trump whisperer." While she hasn't completely succeeded in getting Trump 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 the exit polls, which show 61 percent of white women with no college degree voted for the real-estate magnate over his opponent Hillary Clinton.

How does she do it? Child psychology, of course. As parents of young children know, it's usually more effective to offer them choices than 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 Post goes on to explain that she 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

After joining the Trump campaign, Conway was never shy to go on the offensive about Hillary Clinton. But Kellyanne and her husband are no strangers to the anti-Clinton camp, and have been involved in lawsuits and other attacks directed at the Clintons for the last two decades. In 1996, Conway's husband, George, worked secretly on the Paula Jones case for four years, and actually wrote an important brief for the Supreme Court, which argued that a sitting president could still face a lawsuit while in office. The court agreed, paving the way for the infamous Paula Jones trial to go forward, which gave us the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the eventual impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. Ironically, the precedent set with this decision means that Kellyanne's current boss—President-Elect Trump—now can be taken to court for any of the approximately 75 pending lawsuits against him. '

George's involvement in the Paula Jones case wasn't purely limited to legal matters—he even was the anonymous source who "tipped off" Drudge Report about President Clinton's supposedly unique penis shape. As for Kellyanne herself, since the '90s, she's been appearing on TV shows like Charlie Rose as a conservative commentator, and frequently used her appearances as a platform to attack the Clintons.

She's known Trump for years

Kellyanne Conway actually met Donald 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 Donald would call Kellyanne occasionally to ask her opinion on various issues. The two have apparently become closer now that Conway works for Trump; they even spend time together outside of the "office." In early December 2016, the President-Elect and Conway attended a costume party bash on Long Island. While Trump didn't wear a costume, he was spotted posing with Kellyanne—who was dressed as Superwoman—an appropriate costume considering the superhuman effort Conway gave to get Trump elected.

She's been very critical of Mitt Romney

While many Republicans seem to have a fairly good opinion of Mitt Romney, Kellyanne Conway and many other members of Trump's team haven't been shy about attacking the 2012 Republican candidate. Before Trump had picked his Secretary of State, rumors were flying behind the scenes that Romney was vying for the spot. This may have surprised Trump loyalists, and Romney had very publicly attacked Trump earlier in the campaign cycle, even calling him a "fraud." Trump struck back at Romney, claiming that Mitt had begged him for an endorsement during the 2012 election cycle. The idea of Romney as Secretary of State apparently drew ire from many of Trump's supporters, and Conway took to Twitter in November to draw attention to the backlash.

A few days later, Conway stoked the flames further, appearing on CNN's State of The Union and telling the hosts that "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." Apparently Conway was correct about the backlash and Trump's opinion of Romney, because it wasn't long before the President-Elect named Exxon executive Rex Tillerson to the post, instead.

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

As we mentioned previously, Conway has long been a familiar face on political and news programs as a panelist. It might surprise you to learn that during 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 left Politically Incorrect after she reportedly got tired of Maher's critical comments about Catholicism. But 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 claimed. He went on to say that Conway and the rest of Trump's team deserve "a Nobel Prize in hypocrisy."

Twenty years after their last appearance together on Politically Incorrect, Conway appeared on HBO's Real Time with Bill Maher in September 2016, where 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 mostly friendly, but the pair definitely traded some barbs, with Maher telling Conway that she was "enabling pure evil" by serving as Trump's campaign manager. Conway shot back, breaking the news to Maher that she thought the Democrats were "stuck with a lemon." So while Maher and Conway may be friends, they're definitely not shy about throwing some serious shade at each other when it suits them.

FAIR and balanced?

Ever since former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon joined the Trump team, opposition has swirled around Bannon because of his association with the alt-right and anti-Immigration groups. But what many people don't know is that the squeaky-clean Conway herself has actually been involved with some of the same groups.

In 2015, Conway's polling company conducted a poll on behalf of anti-Muslim think tank the Center for Security Policy, which is run by conservative conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney. According to their website, Conway has done work for the Center for Security policy dating back to at least 1998. Gaffney—who frequently writes for and appears on Breitbart—has become notorious within Republican circles for pushing spurious claims, such as President Obama being a Muslim and Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin being a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Conway later appeared on Gaffney's podcast to promote and explain the seriously flawed poll, which purports that a majority of Muslims in America support the use of Sharia law, and that 20 percent believe violence would be justified to make Sharia the law of the land. Several months later, Donald Trump cited the poll via a press release in which he calls for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States.

In addition to this work for Gaffney's group, Conway and her company have long been associated with anti-Immigration group the Federation for American Immigration Reform. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the FAIR a hate group since 2008, an allegation that FAIR denies. 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 president seems quite pleased at the role that Conway will play in the new 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 President Trump

When Trump originally approached Conway about a position in his campaign in March 2015, she initially turned him down—instead going to work for a super-PAC on behalf of Ted Cruz. During her time there, the PAC launched many attack ads against Trump, including one which claimed Trump supported universal health care. After Cruz's Republican primary bid fell apart, Conway re-evaluated working for Trump and came aboard as an advisor in July 2016, before replacing Paul Manafort as Trump's campaign manager after Manafort was sidelined over allegations of secret payments from pro-Russian groups in Ukraine.

She has very controversial views about feminism

When Conway was first appointed as Donald 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 that "I tell people all the time, 'Don't be fooled, because I am a man by day.'" Despite her demurral, it's clear that Conway does consider herself something of an expert—she's even written a book entitled What Women Really Want.

This wasn't the first (or last) time that Conway has criticised or downplayed the feminist movement. In a speech given 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 that "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 Conway's own divisive opinions on feminism, it appears that adding her to the Trump campaign managed to soften his image for many female voters. As Republican strategist Katie Packer put it, "She has created a niche where candidates can check a box and say, well, they've got a woman advising them." Apparently, this strategy worked well for Trump, as 53 percent of white women voted for him in the November general election.

She knows how to spin a story

Throughout her tenure on Trump's team, Conway has had to spin the truth like a top. Whenever the President-elect makes a statement that induces outrage, Conway inevitably appears to make the rounds on television and walk things back. After the damning Access Hollywood video of Trump making his infamous comments to Billy Bush came to light, Conway defended her boss by attempting to paint other unnamed members of Congress with the same brush. "I would talk to some of the members of Congress there when I was younger and prettier, them rubbing against girls, sticking their tongues down women's throats who were uninvited, didn't like it…you know it's true. And some of them, by the way, are on the list of people who won't support Donald Trump because they all ride around on their high horse," she told MSNBC. She later told CNN's Dana Bash that Trump wasn't condoning sexual assault in the video because, "He did not say the word 'sexual assault.'"

In another prominent example, during the second Presidential Debate, Trump suggested that if he were elected, Hillary Clinton would be in jail. Hours later, Conway was telling television pundits that this was nothing more than a joke, despite Trump doubling down on the threat right before Conway's TV appearance.

After the election, Conway and Trump were quick to call his electoral college victory a "landslide." Political statistician Nate Silver of FiveThrityEight quickly shot down the accuracy of that claim with a single Tweet: "Trump won in the 44th biggest landslide out of the past 54 elections. Pretty epic." Silver went on to further challenge the "Orwellian" quality of the Trump camp's claim in a scathing essay on his website.

With new Trump statements to clarify or explain to the press on a near-daily basis, it seems clear that as the official mouthpiece for President Trump, and as the highest ranking female among his advisors, Conway will have to walk a thin line to keep all those plates spinning.