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Donald and his two trump cards: Ivanka and Kellyanne

Behind the success of the new President are two women - campaign genius Kellyanne Conway and daughter Ivanka. Anne McElvoy saw them in action

Published 12/11/2016

Girl power: Ivanka Trump
Girl power: Ivanka Trump
Kellyanne Conway proved crucial for Donald Trump during his campaign
Donald Trump

Donald Trump has a heck of a lot of trouble with women. In the course of his White House run, he mocked TV host Megyn Kelly's menstruation, was revealed in a historic tape as bandying jokes about sexual assault and has come out with countless vulgarities about women's bodies. Yet alongside him have stood two powerful women, each remarkable in their way.

The Trump feminocracy contains contrasting styles and forms of influence over The Donald, although neither will be First Lady.

Aside from some speeches opposing cyberbullying and supporting her husband after the embarrassing tape leak, Melania Trump was a gracious silence in a raucous campaign.

But Ivanka (35), daughter by his first wife, Ivana, and vice-president of his property business, is acknowledged in the Trump team as his "political spouse".

Finessing that appeal has been the task of Kellyanne Conway, who turned around a flailing, scandal-riven campaign. Ivanka shaped the insurgent's appeal - gathering female votes as well as those of disaffected white males. "People wanted change," she said with her trademark abruptness of the result, "and they got it."

Front-of-house presence has been Ivanka's businesss. Impeccably turned out, with sleek blonde hair smoothed to a glossy sheen, she sports a wardrobe of cruise-collection white and shell pinks, worn even when the temperature drops to autumnal East Coast levels.

I've said that if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I'd be dating her," Trump once remarked.

But beyond his edgy humour about female availability, he has also noted that she is the first person he counts on when he needs advice. Together with her brother, Donald Trump Jnr, they are, a family acquaintance says, "his ports in a storm".

A fondness and respect for his daughter-adviser is apparent. Watching the two of them at the opening of the grandiose Washington Trump hotel, Ivanka's speech dwelt on the values of entrepreneurship, hard work - and included a pat on the back for the staff, mentioned by name.

Her politics seem to be fluid - "neither Republican nor Democrat" she once declared - and she has long been a New York friend of Chelsea Clinton in the cross-politics club of gilded offspring of hard-to-please parents.

Credited with encouraging her father to take on Hillary Clinton's claim to represent feminist interests, Ivanka also champions equal pay for women.

Until now, business has always come first for the Trumps and the Washington hotel opening came after a flurry of bad headlines and edgy confrontations in the TV debates. Standing at the side of the stage as the Trump ladies teetered on stage (four-inch heels a minimum) we watched Ivanka put a calming hand on her father's arm and murmur advice. It's a style which has earned her the nickname, together with Conway, of being the "Trump whisperer".

One fellow New York socialite in the property development world describes Ivanka as "always self-assured, but not bossy". Indeed, her schooling at exclusive Choate Rosemary Hall, in leafy Connecticut, whose alumni include J F Kennedy, Glenn Close, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michael Douglas, followed by Georgetown and the Wharton business school, are closer to the kind of elegantly selective education favoured by East Coast elites rather than tub-thumping populists.

A fellow hotel investor, who has negotiated with her, says her education left her extremely adept at business planning and costing. "She will deliver a very tough plan in a voice that is low and assured and even a bit bewitching," he says.

She has married into the business - to Jared Kushner (35), a developer and political acolyte of her father, converting to Judaism and bringing up three children on Park Avenue. According to Marc Fisher, co-author of the recent biography Trump Revealed, the relationship with Ivanka is "in many ways one of the most mature and significant Donald Trump has had with women".

The campaign was not all good news. A clothing label she launched looks to have suffered by association - racks of black dresses with some slightly saucy detailing are selling for less than $100.

Family glitz and a soothing female manner alongside Trump would not, however, have taken him so far and the woman who can (and will) take credit for steering an accident-prone campaign to a successful conclusion is Kellyanne Conway, the pollster-campaigner.

Conway is a tough operator from the staunchly conservative end of America's (now blighted) polling industry. The tough, athletic 49-year-old with a New Jersey accent has spent three decades advising Republicans on how to appeal to women. She has long had the Clintons in her sights: part of what Hillary once dubbed the "vast Right-wing conspiracy" of lawyers and political strategists who deployed the revelations of Bill Clinton's extra-marital affairs and subsequent cover-ups to engineer his impeachment during his second term. Conway honed her debating skills as part of a concerted Republican attack team and became a frequent cable TV guest in pursuit of the Clinton scalp.

Finally, she got it, when Huma Abedin - Mrs Clinton's chief aide who was embroiled in the backwash from her sex-texting husband and Clinton's careless email handling - called Conway to announce that Hillary was ready to concede and arrange the niceties.

Entering the campaign after a series of rows and departures, Conway weaned a reluctant Trump off the expectation that his campaign team would prioritise pushing his message on TV and focused on the "ground game", targeting seats, crucial districts and twisting arms of old-school republicans for acceptance and backing.

At times she has appeared to distance herself from his rhetorical excesses, shrugging that as the candidate he "says what he wants to say" - hardly an endorsement.

She wisely keeps close relations with Ivanka, who is said to like her because Conway has no desire to change Trump.

Nonetheless, she confiscated his phone to stop his habit of thoughtless tweeting.

Barack Obama wondered out loud if a man who could not be trusted to tweet could be trusted with the nuclear codes.

Less flattering accounts suggest that Conway undermined Trump's existing strategists to take full control. Yet, even in an election where the dividing line between the camps was so sourly drawn, this tough operator has admirers across the party aisle.

She wrote a book with Celinda Lake, a Democrat pollster, on the rising impact of women in US politics.

It begins: "As a not-so-silent majority of women - from seniors to boomers to Generations Z and Y - confront the singular challenge of recasting the nation in their image, they are shaking the culture to its core."

Conquering the boys' club of conservative politics from the 1990s onwards was not a breeze.

"I'm a female consultant to the Republicans," she told The New Yorker.

"When I walk into a meeting at the Republican National Convention, I feel like I am walking into a bachelor party in the locker room of the Elks (fraternity) club." Asked how she coped, she winked broadly, "I tell people, 'Don't be fooled, because I'm a man by day'."

On the face of it, Conway and Ivanka hail from very different tribes of women. But behind such an improbable president, it turns out, are two women who have somehow made the once-unthinkable a matter of fact.

Belfast Telegraph

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