In retrospect, it all seems so obvious. Of course Donald Trump won the election.
Almost from the moment he came down the escalator in the tower that bears his name, Trump dominated the headlines, the Republican polls, and the narrative for the entire campaign on both sides. His candidacy was, as he repeatedly boasted, a "movement."
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Trump's clear message, dynamic personality and promise to "Drain The Swamp" was a perfect contrast with the scandal-plagued, uninspired, entitled and joyless campaign of Hillary Clinton, a fixture of the political scene for decades.
As Vice President Joe Biden recently observed, Hillary Clinton didn't know why she was running.
In contrast, everyone in the country, Republican and Democrat, from the Trump Train to the NeverTrumpers, could tell you why Donald Trump was running. He wanted to Make America Great Again. 2016 belonged to Trump – and the nationalist movement he spawned.
But nothing is inevitable in politics or life. And while it is easy to laugh at the clueless pundits and sneering journalists who dismissed Trump all along, Trump's victory had times of doubt, especially in the summer of 2016.
After receiving a boost from the Republican convention, Trump's candidacy suddenly floundered. Clinton rocketed into the lead following the Democratic National Convention, helped by the favorable coverage the mainstream media gave to anti-Trump attacks by Khizr Khan.
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Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort, brought on board to ensure wavering Republican delegates would remain loyal, was mired in a scandal of his own, with accusations he received payments from a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. There was even speculation Trump would drop out of the race.
Instead, Trump shook up his campaign. He hired Stephen Bannon, executive chair of Breitbart News, to be his campaign CEO. And to be the new campaign manager, Trump promoted a pollster whose name was familiar to politicos, but largely unknown to the general public.
By November 2016, the whole world would know her name – Kellyanne Conway.
Now the unconventional presidential candidate and the unexpected campaign manager have been chosen as WND's Man of the Year and Woman of the Year, respectively.
Conway could not have predicted the strange course her life would take in 2016.
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When the year began, she was a stalwart backer of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, by far Trump's most formidable and persistent opponent in the Republican primaries. Though she had worked with Trump before, Conway headed a pro-Cruz super PAC which blasted Trump as "not a conservative" and called him an "extreme" liberal on abortion issues.
As a pundit, she criticized Trump throughout much of the winter.
All the way through April, Conway was boosting the Cruz campaign and its strategy of accumulating delegates. But even in the midst of the campaign against him, Conway saw something in Trump everyone else seemed to have missed.
As far back as January 2016, she was quoted in The New York Times as saying:
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"For months, until about two or three weeks ago, every single person that I encountered in the Republican Party would begin every sentence the same way: 'When Trump is gone.' That itself was a flawed premise."
When Trump secured the Republican nomination, he began to reach out to former foes, including the staffers of opponents like Cruz. Among them was Conway, who was hired by the Trump campaign for her polling expertise on July 1.
By the next month, she was in charge of the campaign. Amidst other personnel changes, the mainstream media interpreted it as yet another sign the campaign was in disarray.
In retrospect, it was the moment Trump firmly set himself on the path to victory.
Conway's impact was felt immediately. In Milwaukee, Trump made a well-received speech aimed at African-American voters which led to an abrupt rise in black support. He achieved a series of spectacular media coups, notably leading an effort for flood relief in Louisiana and making a trip to Mexico to consult with the country's president. And the Trump campaign invested in what Conway called "conventional tactics" and the "fundamentals," stepping up its staffing, opening field offices in battleground states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, and building the kind of "ground game" which had been previously neglected.
Trump himself also became more disciplined, not getting in his own way when Clinton made unforced errors and sticking to a tighter message on the stump.
This led to jokes about Conway becoming "the Trump whisperer," the one adviser who was able to get the candidate to stick to the talking points instead of going off on tangents. Conway also gave the campaign the kind of credibility in the Beltway Right it had lacked throughout the primaries.
Get the inside story on the next president of the United States – straight from Donald Trump himself! What can we expect from the Trump administration? How are we going to Make America Great Again? It's "Time To Get Tough," the can’t miss book from WND's Man of the Year, available now at the incredible price of only $4.95 in the WND Superstore!
But Conway was no puppet master.
Instead, relying on her instincts as a pollster, she showed a remarkable talent for identifying the Democrats' vulnerabilities and precisely targeting them.
Instead of muzzling Trump, she harnessed the candidate's fierce competitive instincts as Trump relentlessly took the offensive to "Crooked Hillary," especially in the "Blue Wall" of the industrial Midwest which the pundits had mostly written off as a lost cause. Not only that, Conway revealed in her countless media appearances she wasn't just Trump’s campaign manager, but arguably his best surrogate.
This became especially important during the Trump campaign's darkest hours in early October, when embarrassing tapes surfaced featuring Trump talking lewdly about women. The White House called it "sexual harassment."
The Republican nominee plunged in the polls. Some Republicans rescinded their support. One month before the election, Trump appeared to be in a tailspin.
Yet both Conway and Trump showed incredible grit and determination at this critical moment.
Conway, as a woman, bore especially fierce criticism as the media piled on and pressured her to denounce Trump. Instead, she loyally stuck by the nominee and turned the tables by accusing the media of "demeaning" actual victims of sexual assault by comparing Trump's words to the actions of others.
Meanwhile, Trump issued an apology, but shocked the political press with an aggressive performance in the next debate. Knowing a weak showing would likely end his candidacy, Trump blasted Bill Clinton as an abuser of women, demanded Hillary Clinton be held accountable for the email scandal and stood by his rhetoric on immigration and "extreme vetting."
He also mortified hosts Martha Raddatz and Anderson Cooper when he quipped Hillary Clinton would be in jail under a Trump administration and the audience broke the forum's rules by applauding wildly.
Together, Conway and Trump had stopped the bleeding by the second week of October, and over the course of that final month some of those Republicans who had backed away from Trump came crawling back.
Trump himself was still confident of victory, declaring "the shackles are off."
Still, even in late October, Conway was acknowledging the campaign was behind.
But by the end of the month and in the beginning of November, Conway evidently saw something few others did.
And the 70-year-old Trump, who once commented Hillary Clinton "doesn't have the stamina" to be president, upheld a grueling pace up until the final day of the election which would have broken many younger men.
Still, few in the media expected Trump could win. The press was full of snarky articles joking about how the "long national nightmare" of Trump's candidacy was almost over and the only question left was how badly Trump would lose.
And then the polls closed.
The returns trickled in.
The Republicans held on to North Carolina and Florida and journalists started to look worried. And suddenly, as the votes were counted in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, the faces of the talking heads on television fell.
The unthinkable had occurred.
Donald Trump had won.
In the weeks that followed, as Trump built his transition team, Conway became a target almost as much as the President-elect himself. Rather than honoring her as the first female to ever head a winning presidential campaign, she was accused by feminists of having "failed" women.
On Saturday Night Live, cast member Kate McKinnon portrays her as reluctant enabler of a crazed, incompetent man, plagued by guilt and regret. And some far-left websites insist she is actually "the mastermind" behind the entire Trump campaign.
Yet the truth is something far simpler and more important. Both Trump and Conway have skills which complement each other, making the combination all but unstoppable.
Despite everyone underestimating him from day one, Donald Trump showed himself in 2016 not just to be a master of branding and messaging, but an orator and political tactician surpassing anyone seen in decades.
Slowly, painfully, the mainstream media is learning Donald J. Trump knew what he was doing all along. In the face of all but unanimous hatred from the press and overwhelming opposition from both political parties, Trump managed to conquer both the GOP from within and take the presidency in what has to be regarded as the biggest electoral upset in history.
But he didn't do it alone. Kellyanne Conway played what Trump himself called a "crucial role" in his victory by plugging the gaps in Trump's coalition.
With her media savvy and skill as a surrogate, she helped him overcome his weaknesses with women voters. She provided the data and the ground game which brought Trump victory in states Republicans haven't won for decades. Her tireless advocacy in the face of withering criticism showed her to be a stalwart and loyal fighter possessed of the zeal of a convert.
And Conway did seemingly what no one else could, harnessing Trump's populist, unscripted approach behind a precisely tailored message. The result was a winning coalition few in the media thought was possible – and the most powerful political partnership America has seen in a generation.
Conway recently accepted a job as counselor to the president and will be part of the "senior staff" in the White House. President-elect Trump and Kellyanne Conway will continue to subvert the establishment press, dominate the media narrative at will, and combine populism with a professionalism in a way American politics has never witnessed before.
Together, they have already changed American politics forever.
Together, they are WND's Duo of the Year for 2016. And now, together, we will see if they can keep their promises, and Make America Great Again.
Get the inside story on the next President of the United States – straight from Donald Trump himself! What can we expect from the Trump administration? How are we going to Make America Great Again? It's "Time To Get Tough," the can’t miss book from WND’s Man of the Year, available now at the incredible price of only $4.95 in the WND Superstore!