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In Trump’s White House, the women are the survivors

Kellyanne Conway’s office has a different vibe than other corners of the West Wing.

Unlike some of the drab work spaces belonging to her male counterparts, whose offices look as impersonal as the day they moved in, Conway’s office is decorated with colorfully framed, oversize family photos mounted on the walls and a copy of Ivanka Trump’s book “Women Who Work” prominently on display.

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The comfy digs are a sign that Conway, the White House counselor who recently has been keeping a lower profile, is planning on being here for the long haul — even though some of her colleagues, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and recently departed chief of staff Reince Priebus, have at times tried to cut her out of the information loop.

Meanwhile, former colleagues like Priebus, Anthony Scaramucci, Sean Spicer, Michael Flynn, Michael Dubke, Michael Short and Boris Epshteyn have been fired, or simply resigned to save themselves. Even Bannon, according to multiple people close to President Donald Trump, has been the target of the president’s recent frustrations and anger, and he has been trying to lower his genius-behind-the-throne profile in order to avoid sharing Priebus’ unhappy fate.

Conway, however, is not alone in surviving the snakepit. The quiet endurers of Trump’s tumultuous White House, by and large, are the women who serve in his administration. That fact that may seem ironic in an administration run by a man who has launched sexist attacks on everyone from morning show host Mika Brzezinski to his former campaign opponent Hillary Clinton — and who in the past has been accused by more than a dozen women of groping or kissing them against their will.

But the women of the West Wing, at least so far, have had the more stable ride. Former Goldman Sachs partner Dina Powell has risen in the ranks to become deputy national security adviser. She was also on the final shortlist of people Trump was considering for the chief of staff job given to retired Gen. John Kelly, according to two White House officials.

It was Powell, alongside U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who was invited to ride in Trump’s car, known as “The Beast,” from the White House to Andrews Air Force Base last Friday, hours before the president unceremoniously fired Priebus in the rain.

Communications adviser Hope Hicks maintains an unassailable position as a surrogate family member and loyal aide by the president’s side, where she has stood since before there was even a campaign.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders has risen to the position of press secretary, after Spicer resigned because he was not given the full control of the communications department that he demanded.

During Scaramucci’s brief attempt at cleansing the West Wing of former Republican National Committee staffers, he managed to oust press aide Short, but not another RNC alum, Lindsay Walters, who was also brought on board by Priebus.

Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault, famous for playing a villain on “The Apprentice,” has so far been leading a surprisingly drama-free, if not particularly visible, work life in the White House.

And Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and a senior adviser, has skated past the FBI’s ongoing Russia investigation, which has entangled both her husband and her older brother, Donald Trump Jr.

So far, only two women have been moved out of Trump’s West Wing. Former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland, a former Fox News commentator, was seen as collateral damage in Flynn’s firing and was given a cushy landing as ambassador to Singapore. Katie Walsh, Priebus’ former deputy, who had no real personal relationship with the president, never overcame her internal reputation as a Priebus henchwoman.

It’s unclear exactly why women have had more stable runs, at least so far, in Trump’s West Wing, a place that has proposed policies deeply threatening to traditional women’s interests, such as the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the rolling back of Obama-era regulations on equal pay.

Interviews with former staffers, current White House officials and political observers give most of the credit to women being better equipped to navigate Trump’s short-fused personality, as well as his inability to cope with anyone getting more attention than him.

“He’s no different to women than he is to men,” said Barbara Res, a former top construction executive at the Trump Organization who worked directly under Trump and said he hasn’t changed his playbook in 30 years. “He’s not any more solicitous of women. He likes to have everyone on edge, people competing with each other, he likes to divide and conquer, he likes everyone to think they work directly for him, men and women alike.”

Res said she doesn’t think Trump views his direct reports in terms of gender. “He never thought of me as a woman,” she said. “He thought I was a real estate animal, he loved my killer instincts. That’s what he wanted. The ones he saw as women were the secretaries.”

That sentiment was echoed by McFarland in an interview earlier this year with Business Insider. “I don’t think he cares two hoots whether I was male or female,” she said. “He just thought I could get the job done.”

But Res said women may have an easier time navigating the competitive work atmosphere that Trump likes to foster because they are naturally more self-protective. “It would be rare to find a female Scaramucci,” she said, noting it was unlikely that a woman would unload the profane tirade against White House officials that ultimately cost Scaramucci his job.

A White House official said: “The president has employed women at the highest levels of his company, his campaign and now his administration and their successes are a testament in part to his leadership, but as he would be the first to tell you, more importantly their capabilities.”

Added Alexandra De Luca, press secretary to EMILY’s List: “Women who are successful in their careers have usually had to deal with misogynistic jerks along the way. This White House is about as toxic as it gets — but women have learned how to manage, and ignore, Trump’s particular brand of egomania in a way that their male counterparts just haven’t.”

Indeed, some of the women who have succeeded in Trump’s circle are those who gamely play along with the role the president casts them in. On the evening after his inauguration, Trump gave a shout-out to his former campaign manager at a black-tie dinner. “I see my Kellyanne,” Trump said from the stage, beckoning her to join him and then kissing her hand and calling her “baby.” She smiled and curtsied.

During a joint appearance on “The View” in 2006, Ivanka Trump smiled along while her dad remarked on her figure and noted while seated next to her on the couch: “If Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

Other White House observers had a different theory of why the women are surviving: None of them have occupied the hot seat jobs. With a few exceptions, the women in Trump’s White House have simply not been given enough authority to be targeted for professional assassination.

Of the 22 staffers who take home the maximum salary of $179,700, just five are women — Conway, Hicks, Manigault, Powell and Lindsay Reynolds, chief of staff to the first lady. That’s not a phenomenon unique to Trump’s White House: Women in Barack Obama’s White House, during his first term, struggled to have a seat at the table and a voice in policy discussions, and two-thirds of the president’s top aides were men.

The lack of top female advisers became an optics problem for Trump in the opening days of his administration, when he would often be surrounded by a gaggle of white men crowding around the Resolute Desk for a photo-op signing of an executive order.

While she has been cut out of many meetings, Conway, people close to her said, sees the upside of the floater role she currently occupies. It allows her to fly under the radar when necessary and stay out of the president’s ever-changing line of fire. White House officials said it remains to be seen how long Sanders will remain in the president’s favor now that she is in the media spotlight on a daily basis.

But most White House officials and former campaign staffers interviewed credit the tactics of the female White House officials for knowing how best to manage Trump.

“In this White House, most of the drama queens are men,” said Stu Loeser, a former press secretary to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. For example, Bannon and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, waged a war against each other for weeks, until Trump told them to work it out. The tension between Bannon and Priebus, in the early days of the administration, became so unmanageable that they took their fake buddy comedy on the road, making a knee-slapping appearance together at the Conservative Political Action Conference, in an attempt to change the narrative.

One factor that several White House officials pointed to: the number of senior White House women who have three to six children. One official said that between kids and a demanding day job, “they just don’t have the same amount of time to stir the pot.”

Another White House aide added that the female staffers who have succeeded in the administration are the ones who “keep their heads down” and don’t try to be in the press or push their own agenda. Trump also notices which people generally command the respect of everyone else in the room.

“Those women are being work horses, not show horses,” said Alyssa Mastromonaco, a former top official in Obama’s White House, who has experienced the pressure-cooker environment of being one of the few top women in the West Wing. “They all seem to be genuinely focused on the presidency and not building a personal brand. I may not share Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ politics, but she’s working her ass off and deserves more credit than she gets.”


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