The ‘Best People’: 6 of Donald Trump’s Closest Advisors
As an elected official, Donald Trump isn’t simply inexperienced — he has absolutely no experience at all.
This observation isn’t meant to be an insult. Trump has literally never once been elected into public office, and he’ll be the first one to tell you so. He’s weaponized his lack of experience, making the argument that if electing career politicians year after year can’t solve the country’s problems, maybe electing someone outside the establishment for once would shock the system and allow for some real change.
Of course, even Trump will admit that he needs the expertise of others to help him out in some areas. When asked how he will handle complicated matters of economics, diplomacy, and national security, Trump has answered that he knows how to hire “the best people” to assist him with these issues.
Who are Trump’s “best people” right now? Who does he turn to when he doesn’t know quite what to do? The following six Trump advisors stand out as the most influential people near the candidate.
1. Kellyanne Conway (campaign manager)
— Washington Post Live (@postlive) August 18, 2016
In his latest campaign shakeup, Trump has replaced Paul Manafort (who replaced Corey Lewandowski) as campaign manager. Pollster Kellyanne Conway is now managing the Trump campaign.
Conway is a familiar face inside the Beltway. After earning a law degree and then teaching law at the George Washington University Law Center in D.C., she worked for several polling firms and then started her own firm, The Polling Company. Conway also started WomanTrend, a key division of The Polling Company that focuses on connecting businesses with female consumers.
As a polling authority, Conway has worked with many GOP heavyweights over the years, including Jack Kemp, Dan Quayle, Newt Gingrich, and Trump’s VP Mike Pence. She’s also appeared as a commentator on Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and other major media outlets.
“Kellyanne is a tremendous asset to our rapidly-expanding campaign team,” Trump said in a statement when Conway was hired in July. “She is a data and messaging expert and terrific on TV. It is great to have her on board.”
In addition to her data and messaging expertise, many analysts believe that Conway was hired to help Trump improve his image with women. This is an area where he could really use some help, given that past polls have shown that as much as 70% of women hold an unfavorable opinion of Trump. The campaign is surely hoping that giving Conway more influence will help them find a way to make Trump more appealing to women.
2. Steve Bannon (chief executive)
The other big move the Trump campaign made this week was promoting Steve Bannon to “Chief Executive”. Bannon has worked as an investment banker and a filmmaker, and since 2012 he has been the executive chairman of Breitbart News LLC, the parent company of the conservative Breitbart News Network (Bannon has taken a temporary leave from Breitbart to work on the campaign).
This is a sign that an already heated presidential race is about to get even nastier. While Manafort made efforts to tame Trump’s image, Bannon is known for his combative personality and will likely go the opposite direction, encouraging Trump to be more aggressive. “If you were looking for a tone or pivot, Bannon will pivot you in a dark, racist, and divisive direction,” said GOP consultant Rick Wilson. “It’ll be a nationalist, hateful campaign.”
3. Sen. Jeff Sessions (national security chair)
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R – Alabama) became the first senator to endorse Trump on February 28. Many other important endorsements have rolled in since, but at that time, most people were convinced that Trump’s primary campaign would inevitably implode and wasn’t worth serious consideration.
That early faith earned Sessions a seat at the table. He was named chairman of Trump’s foreign policy advisory committee in March. According to Sessions, Trump’s stance on foreign policy is more dovish than you might expect. “[Trump’s foreign policy] is realism, it’s caution, it’s being more cautious about how we deploy our men and women in harm’s way, not to be involved in excessive efforts to alter, create democracies in countries that are not ready for it,” Sessions told Fox News in May.
4. Walid Phares (counterterrorism advisor)
Perhaps the most prominent argument in Trump’s rhetoric is that he will be able to keep this country safe from terrorism.
“I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” Trump said during his RNC speech. “Beginning on January 2oth 2017, safety will be restored.”
Trump recruited Phares, an accomplished academic, to help him with his counterterrorism strategy. Phares earned a master’s degree in international law from the Université de Lyon in France and a PhD in international relations and strategic studies from the University of Miami, and he teaches at BAU International University in Washington, D.C.
When Phares was named a foreign policy adviser to Mitt Romney in 2012, the move was met with some criticism. During the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s, Phares taught ideology to Christian militias that were responsible for thousands of civilian casualties. To put it mildly, this piece of Phares’s history doesn’t sit well with a lot of people.
5. Ivanka Trump (daughter)
The Republican National Convention was very much a family affair: Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Tiffany Trump all gave nationally-televised speeches.
But it was Ivanka Trump’s speech that was the most anticipated. She had the second-best spot of the whole convention in terms of viewership, speaking right before her father. It’s easy to see why Ivanka was given such a good spot. Of all the Trump kids, she’s the biggest celebrity. She had a major role in The Apprentice. She’s been on the cover of Seventeen, Forbes, and Golf Magazine. She’s also a strong public speaker, often traveling with Trump to speak at rallies. In fact, it was Ivanka who introduced Trump when he made the announcement that he was running for president.
Ivanka also influenced her father in the Manafort versus Lewandowski decision, and she’s advised him in other matters as well. It’s rare for a candidate’s daughter to have as much sway in a campaign as Ivanka seems to have.
6. Dan Scavino Jr. (social media director)
Scavino has been near Trump since long before the 2016 presidential race. At age 16, he started working at the Briar Hall Country Club golf course. Trump bought the course in 1996 and renamed it the Trump National Golf Club. Scavino became Trump’s personal caddie, and over time he worked his way up through the ranks to become an Executive VP of Trump National Golf Club.
Other than Trump’s children, no one in the upper ranks of the Trump campaign is closer to the candidate on a personal level than Scavino.