Trump points to his campaign manager Kellyanne Conway at his election night victory party in November 2016
New York (AFP) - If Donald Trump owes his stunning victory to anyone it might be campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, a diminutive, ever smiling pollster, Republican strategist and mother of four.
The 49-year-old New Jersey native is the first woman to manage a successful presidential campaign in US history, thereby shattering one glass ceiling on election night if not the one that most expected.
On Thursday she announced that she had been offered a job in the White House.
"Could it be those 'sources' want the WH job I've been offered?" she tweeted after a journalist said she was reluctant to work in the administration because she wanted to keep running her polling company.
"I will serve in whatever capacity I'm asked, where I feel like I can be most helpful," she told CNBC on Wednesday, hours after Trump's acceptance speech when lesser mortals might have been sleeping off a very late night.
In an indication of her importance to the campaign, she was the first person outside the family whom Trump thanked in that 3 am speech that sent a political earthquake across the world.
When the president-elect then made his way down the line of family and aides in a Manhattan ballroom, he gave Conway a kiss on the cheek.
In an eye-catching tailored red dress, Conway reached up to hug him, whispered something into his ear and gave him a motherly pat on the back. They were later photographed, Trump with an arm round her waist and his right index finger pointing at her in pride and gratitude as she waved to the crowd.
- Concession call -
The victory over the vastly more experienced Hillary Clinton was so extraordinary that even Conway referred to it on twitter as #surreal.
For months she was his indefatigable spokesperson and careful manager, an apologist for his worst excesses, emphasizing the good, deflecting the bad by pivoting to Clinton's weaknesses and handling his ego with dexterity.
"I love the fact that he restrained himself tonight and he was a gentleman," Conway said after Trump resisted bringing up Bill Clinton's reputed affairs in the first presidential debate in September.
That she was a woman was crucial as Trump came under fire for vulgar remarks about groping women and was accused by a dozen women, says Gabriel Kahn, a professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.
"The fact that she could, with a straight face, go on talk show after talk show and explain away all these transgressions, inconsistencies, multiple flaws what have you, was an effective tool to make crazy seem normal," he said.
She made his remarks "seem not so awful, simply because she was an attractive, articulate and blond white woman," Kahn told AFP.
Conway never indulged in the vicious mudslinging that characterized so much of the election, earning the trust of the Trump children and respect from her detractors.
It was Conway whom Huma Abedin, Clinton's closest aide, called in the middle of the night to put her boss on the line to concede to Trump.
- Third time lucky -
It must have been an extraordinary moment for a woman raised by a single mother who worked for a casino before going on to study political science and get a law degree from George Washington University.
She founded her own company in 1995 with offices in Washington and New York, and has worked with the likes of Ronald Reagan's pollster, Newt Gingrich, reportedly a possible Trump secretary of state, and Mike Pence, vice president elect.
Recently someone on whom Republican politicians called to help reach out to women voters, she initially worked this year for Ted Cruz, but ultimately joined team Trump after impressing his daughter, Ivanka.
It was not a propitious start. She was the third campaign manager in two months. The first, Corey Lewandowski, was fired in June after being sidelined and accused of manhandling a woman reporter.
The second Paul Manafort, who resigned over pro-Kremlin ties, battled to keep Trump in line. But as aides have confided to the US press, you cannot order around a 70-year-old billionaire who thinks he's invincible.
Instead, Conway took a more subtle approach. A New York magazine article compared her talk of managing Trump to a mother of "unruly toddlers."
"It's like saying to someone, 'How about having two brownies and not six?''" she told the magazine.
Married to George Conway, a partner in a New York law firm, the couple live in a $6 million mansion in Alpine, New Jersey, one of America's wealthiest zip codes, with their four young children.