White House counselor Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday said Donald Trump plans to target vulnerable red-state Democrats as the midterm election campaign heats up and denied the president is “serially untruthful.”
She also disagreed with former Speaker John A. Boehner’s stance that the Republican Party is “taking a nap” that allowed Trump to take control of it, predicted more West Wing staff upheaval and offered a window into efforts to plug a series of leaks during a breakfast event with reporters. Conway insisted the president is busily preparing for his summit with his North Korean counterpart, but struggled to provide specifics on that preparation.
Conway, a veteran GOP pollster and one of the architects of the homestretch strategy of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, said he intends to be “very active in the midterms.” And she made clear his top priority will be Democrats in Republican-leaning states — and she mentioned two by name.
“He’s come up with a nickname for Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and has made very clear — these are the president’s words now — that Sen. Donnelly has been a vote against a number of things the president cares about,” Conway said. Trump has used two nicknames for the Hoosier State’s senior senator: “Sleepin’ Joe” and “swamp person.”
“He has made clear that Sen. Jon Tester should not have been assassinating the character of a good person — in this case, Dr. Ronny Jackson,” she said.
Conway used her appearance at the Christian Science Monitor-sponsored event to provide a preview of at least part of the president’s likely midterm message.
“He’s going to be involved. He’s confident in holding the Senate, and picking up a couple more seats,” she said. “You’ve got a lot of red-state Democrats trying to hug the president from afar and pretend they support a lot of things where it was their party that shutdown the government and all in unison voted against the [GOP tax law].”
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She called Trump and Vice President Mike Pence the GOP’s “two greatest assets,” saying the duo “will be deployed thusly.” She declined to discuss specific campaign plans, but said the president’s rate of campaigning will increase in the coming months.
Conway also signaled Trump and other administration officials who will hit the trail on behalf of Republican candidates will try to paint Democrats as a party with no agenda. “The big question is: What is their message?” she said, mockingly criticizing what she believes it is five months from Election day: “He’s (Trump) bad. And we’re not him.”
And, as the president himself has already said during political and official events, he intends to tell voters he can get more of his proposed policies enacted with more Republican votes, while also describing the state of the economy.
Conway herself plans to hit the campaign trail next week for “some candidates,” and she said presidential daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump will campaign with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in his home state of California soon. “We will all help,” she said.
She also rejected the notion the president has snatched control of a dormant party. At a conference last week in Michigan, Boehner said this: “The Republican party is kinda taking a nap somewhere,” adding Trump is among the “most unusual” men to ever win the White House.
Conway disagreed, describing the GOP as still coming to terms with a president who “wants the party to act more quickly.” The president sees the party as moving on “swamp pace” rather than “Trump pace.” She did praise the former speaker for holding together a sometimes-fractious House caucus, but took one jab, saying he is “probably thankful” for the tax cut he got under the GOP law Trump signed in December.
The White House counselor also addressed what she called the “palace intrigue” of a steady flow of West Wing departures — and rumors that more high-level exits are imminent. But she declined to say whether Trump intends to fill the vacant communications director post or act as his own chief of staff if John Kelly vacates that position.
Conway denied that Kelly Sadler, a communications staffer who left her role this week following a leaked comment she made about Sen. John McCain’s failing health. “Let me make clear that nobody has suggested that Kelly Sadler no longer works at the Executive Office of the President complex because of leaks,” confirming that “she does no longer work there.”
More staff changes are ahead, Conway said, both within the communications office and in other parts of the West Wing. And she suggested a way that Trump and Kelly can limit the amount of information that leaks from White House staff.
“I think tighter, smaller meetings are better,” Conway said. “I think they're better. For all the talk about who has privileges to the Oval Office, I often said … there are times that people should exercise their ‘walking out privileges’ from the Oval Office.”
And ahead of Trump’s high-stakes denuclearization summit next week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Conway tried to assure reporters that Trump is preparing daily.
She mentioned several senior officials with whom Trump has discussed the summit, and several meetings. At one point she said, “Obviously, a high-ranking North Korean official was here in Washington [and] in New York the day before that,” but she also noted “Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo has taken the lead here.”
“And ... the way he makes decisions and the way he gets briefed,” Conway said without explaining how. “He also is somebody who’s, as every president has, tons and tons of written material that he reviews. We all add to it for different issues. We discussed it extensively.”
Conway did pull back a curtain on the president’s decision-making process, suggesting those individuals he spends his evenings and mornings talking with on the telephone have ample influence over his policy decisions.
Trump “relies upon his chief of staff, his Cabinet, other senior staffers, and on outside advisers and longtime friends, too,” she said, “to be part of his decision-making and thinking process.”