Kellyanne Conway: President Trump’s Pro-Life Counselor

Pro-life organizations hail Donald Trump’s special adviser as a proven fighter for the pro-life movement, who used her polling company to gather the data that would shape the pro-life message.

Kellyanne Conway speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 4, 2016.
Kellyanne Conway speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, on March 4, 2016. (photo: Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — David Daleiden spent 30 months undercover, infiltrating the deepest echelons of the abortion industry and its leading provider, Planned Parenthood. By 2015, he had countless hours of videotaped footage, but he knew he had to get the message right if Americans were to realize that a brutal business of abortion and commercial exploitation of unborn children’s bodies lay behind the Planned Parenthood brand.

So he turned to the one person trusted by pro-life leaders to get the data and analysis needed to craft a message that would resonate with the broadest section of the public: Kellyanne Conway.

Daleiden hired Conway and her firm, The Polling Company, Inc./WomenTrend. He watched Conway conduct two focus groups in Colorado for Daleiden’s investigative outfit, the Center for Medical Progress. He told the Register that he came away awed by her “impressive ability to take in and process huge amounts of information at once,” as well as her ability to listen where different people were coming from, and “unify perspectives that could seem opposed and incompatible.”

Conway’s quantitative research and analysis helped Daleiden finally craft the message he needed to tell people about Planned Parenthood’s “baby-body-parts scandal” — an image that The Polling Company later confirmed had stuck in the minds of people and tarnished the abortion provider’s brand: The numbers showed Planned Parenthood’s ratings of 50% favorable and 30% unfavorable had flipped.

Daleiden said Conway, a fellow Catholic like him, is really “indispensable to the pro-life movement,” because she truly embodies for him what St. John Paul II described as the “feminine genius.”  

“It’s to their own detriment and, ultimately, defeat, that people underestimate her,” he said.


‘One Strong, Determined Woman’

Long before Conway became known to the broader public as President Donald Trump’s trusted counselor and the first woman to run a successful campaign for the White House, pro-life organizations in Washington, D.C., knew her for more than 20 years as someone fiercely dedicated to the pro-life cause as a wife, mother and polling analyst in charge of her own company.

Kellyanne Conway, née Fitzpatrick, was born in 1967 and grew up in New Jersey, raised by her mother, grandmother and two aunts. They gave her the Catholic faith and sent her to Catholic schools. She eventually graduated with a law degree from George Washington University, before going on to work at two polling companies, the Wirthlin Group and Luntz Research Companies. She struck out on her own in 1995, founding The Polling Company. Six years later, she married New York lawyer George Conway III, with whom she has four children.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, told the Register that she became friends with Conway in the mid-1990s, when SBA List was just getting off the ground. Conway struck her immediately at the outset as “one strong, determined woman,” and Dannenfelser came to learn that Conway’s passionate pro-life convictions came from her home life. Conway is a major speaker at the Jan. 27 March for Life in D.C., as Donald Trump’s personal representative. Conway has always been a regular participant at the March for Life, ever since she started going with her aunts and her mother.

“She’s always been part of the rank-and-file pro-life marchers, like everyone else,” Dannenfelser said. “It’s in her DNA.”


Pro-Life Gold Standard

Conway’s polling company has helped Susan B. Anthony List and other pro-life groups craft successful messaging on pro-life issues and legislation, because Conway realized that polling that used the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” labels did not give these organizations the data they needed. Dannenfelser explained that Conway found one person would describe him or herself with a “pro-life” label, while another person would use a “pro-choice” label, but both would actually be in substantial agreement on the life issues. So Conway went beyond these labels to ask people how they felt about taxpayer money funding abortions or abortions performed on children who can feel pain. She would not just ask people how they viewed Roe v. Wade, like other mainstream pollsters; she asked how they felt about Roe v. Wade practically abolishing all limits on abortion at any stage.

Because Conway went deeper than mainstream pollsters in addressing the issue, she was able to show pro-life groups that their issues enjoyed much broader support from both self-identified “pro-life” and “pro-choice” people. Dannenfelser said SBA List used that data and analysis during election cycles to craft a message tailored to reach persuadable voters in battleground states.

David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, told the Register that his organization has been working with Conway since the beginning of The Polling Company — a period that spans the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban debate all the way to the current debate over the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.

“What she’s provided has helped us guide our strategy,” he said.

Indeed, Kristi Hamrick, a media consultant for Americans United for Life, told the Register that Conway is the “gold standard in polling.” Hamrick added that Conway would generously dedicate her time to share her polling data, insights and advice with pro-life groups working in D.C. to help them connect the pro-life message with the broader public audience.

“Her insights are astounding,” said Hamrick, who started working with Conway and her polling company while at the Family Research Council.

Hamrick said Conway is a “true pro-life woman” — but a woman who will not tolerate bad data, or bad messaging, from people on her own side. She recalled one time at a Values Voter Summit that Conway presented ways the pro-life cause could “talk smarter and be more effective.” Hamrick said a young man stood up in the room, did not like what she was advising and challenged her analysis.

Conway engaged in a “vigorous debate,” Hamrick said, and with her amazing ability to recall a legion of facts, Conway made sure the entire room understood the math behind why the life issues still motivate voters and how the movement needs to connect with them.

“She could see a way forward,” Hamrick said.


Building Bridges

Conway also provides a powerful pro-life example regarding her belief in the dignity of the human person: She disarms people at opposite ends of the political spectrum with her charm and graciousness and makes friends with them, according to her friends and colleagues. At an event, Hamrick observed Conway and Bill Maher — two people who could not be more different politically — laughing together. On television, Conway has an “edge of steel,” and Maher strikes back with his “rapier wit.” But those two enjoy a friendship, Hamrick noted, because Conway “knows how to talk to people in a friendly way,” even when they disagree.

“That really helps all of us,” she said. “She really is a bridge-builder.”

In fact, Conway collaborated with Celinda Lake, a researcher with liberal views, to co-author a book outlining the trends among U.S. women in 2005, What Women Really Want: How American Women Are Quietly Erasing Political, Racial, Class and Religious Lines to Change the Way We Live.

Above all, the consensus of pro-life leaders was that the pro-life movement could not have a better champion, or a better strategic mind, than Kellyanne Conway representing their interests in the White House as “Counselor to the President.” They express firmly the conviction that Conway will never forget the pro-life cause.

In fact, every indication shows Conway’s pro-life roots are going strong, according to Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life. She told the Register that Conway leapt at the opportunity to speak at Friday’s March for Life rally in Washington with these words: “I’m delighted! Count me in!”

Not only will Conway be there as a historic personal emissary from President Trump, but she will have Vice President Mike Pence and White House staff joining her there, as well. President Trump is expected to call in, too. EWTN will broadcast the march live.

“I feel confident in Kellyanne,” AUL’s Hamrick said, affirming her conviction that the pro-life agenda has a strong advocate in the White House.

“She won’t forget.”


Peter Jesserer Smith is a Register staff reporter.