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New pro-Trump group takes form, with Kellyanne Conway possibly at the helm

Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to President-elect Donald Trump, said she is weighing whether to join him in the White House or run an outside group. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

Senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway said in an interview Monday that she is considering leading a group being formed that will provide “a surround-sound super structure” to bolster the new administration’s political and policy goals.

The entity, whose legal structure has not yet been determined, will serve as the outside hub to support President-elect Donald Trump’s agenda. Discussions about the formation of the group have been underway for several weeks.

People familiar with the planning said that some helping organize the as-yet unnamed group have a working motto: "Unleash the Potential," a moniker to describe the quick start they are expecting of Trump administration and the Republican-led Congress in the first part of 2017. The new president and GOP leaders are preparing to enact sweeping changes to the nation's tax, immigration and health-care policies.

Conway told The Washington Post that she is still deciding whether to join Trump at the White House or run the organization, which will seek to harness his most fervent supporters in political and policy fights. Republicans will have a smaller but still dominant majority in the House and will control 52 seats in the Senate. On legislation, however, the Senate filibuster is a factor, requiring at least 60 senators to vote to clear procedural hurdles and move to final passage.

Conway said it will be important for the organization to be run by someone “close to the president” who understands Trump’s priorities.

“He’s going to be a very active president who wants to accomplish things quickly,” she said, adding: “We want to honor that by being ready.” Conway said she and her family are considering relocating to Washington from New York and have been house-hunting.

"All he did was receive a phone call. I think everybody should just calm down," said President-elect Donald Trump's campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. (Video: Reuters)

One immediate goal: to have an organization in place to defend Trump's Cabinet nominees if they face confirmation battles. In the longer term, his advisers believe the group could be a potent force in the 2018 midterm elections, when Republicans are hoping to expand their Senate majority by picking off vulnerable Democratic incumbents. More than half of the 48 members of the Senate Democratic caucus face reelection in two years, including 10 senators from states Trump won.

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“We’re fighting and planning how to continue this seismic change and the Trump revolution into the next election, and you’ve got the Democrats literally rehiring the same people who failed them,” Conway said, referring to Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s reelection as House minority leader. “We’re trying to learn the right lessons from our election.”

The new group is expected to focus especially on 10 vulnerable Democratic senators who represent states that Trump won: Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin III (W. Va.), who are reportedly under consideration for Trump administration positions; Joe Donnelly (Ind.), who hails from Vice President-elect Mike Pence's home state; and Sens. Bill Nelson (Fla.), Robert P. Casey Jr. (Pa.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Tammy Baldwin (Wis.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.). Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), whose state voted for Hillary Clinton, is also seen as a potentially persuadable Democrat given her publicly stated desire to seek bipartisan compromises.

The Trump group could potentially target each senator by mobilizing followers to call their offices or target the lawmakers on Twitter, Facebook and other social-media platforms. Hand-picked leaders in each of the counties Trump won across the country could also apply more direct pressure by calling state or district offices.

The entity will resemble in part Citizens for America, an organization launched by supporters of President Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. Led by Lewis Lehrman, a Republican New York banker, the group claimed more than 260 local chapters and drew funding from supporters including T. Boone Pickens and top executives at Fortune 500 firms, including Amway, Shell Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank. The group didn't campaign for or endorse Reagan's 1984 reelection, but local chapter leaders sought to rally the public for Reagan's policies by submitting newspaper and magazine letters to the editor, calling into radio and television talk shows and mobilizing local activists to call and lobby lawmakers.

More than 30 years later, “Trump has the ability to do Citizens for America on steroids through the Internet,” said Richard F. Hohlt, a Washington-based Republican consultant and lobbyist. “They're smart enough to know how to harness the movement to their advantage. This is going to be huge. Republicans have never had this before.”

The legal structure of the new organization is being discussed by attorneys. If the group is formed as a super PAC or set up under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, it could accept unlimited donations, but 501(c)(4) nonprofits are not required to publicly disclose their donors. Organizing for Action, the nonprofit advocacy group that grew out of President Obama's reelection campaign, is set up as a 501(c)(4), but it voluntarily discloses its contributors.

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The new pro-Trump group could have major patrons in hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah, who have emerged as influential figures in Trump’s orbit. The Mercers ran and financed a pro-Trump super PAC during the campaign, and Rebekah Mercer is close to Conway, deputy campaign manager David Bossie and campaign chairman Stephen K. Bannon, who will serve as the chief White House strategist.

The pro-Trump group will likely have access to the 10 million email addresses of potential supporters that the Republican National Committee and the Trump campaign acquired over the course of the campaign, a list that includes more than 2.5 million individual donors.

Brad Parscale, who served as Trump’s digital director, is expected to work with the organization. Other possible recruits include Marc Short, a top adviser to Pence.

There is already one outside group that has positioned itself to serve as Trump’s main political flanking operation: Great America PAC, a super PAC led by former Reagan aide Ed Rollins and California GOP strategist Eric Beach. But the formation of a new group run by Trump intimates would likely overshadow that effort.