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In that regard, Mr. Schneider is a great believer that “personnel is policy.” A conservative president or Cabinet officer — or perhaps advocacy group executive director — who uses key appointments as political rewards and appoints moderates to critical positions will wind up with a moderate policy.

At the beginning of President George W. Bush’s administration, Mr. Schneider worked for Ms. Chao, who, he said, “understood that ‘personnel is policy’ principle better than any other Cabinet secretary” appointed by Mr. Bush.

“She and I would sit down probably two hours a day every day because she cared so much about finding the most effective conservatives to populate the positions at the Labor Department,” he said. “She cared so much we were able to find the political appointees who ran that department better than any other department in the eight years of the Bush administration.”

Just as important as policy and management skills is motivation. On that front, Mr. Schneider now feels driven to play a more direct role in helping the conservative movement reverse unpleasant realities.

One is that almost half of the U.S. population now pays no income taxes — up from 15 percent in the mid-1980s, while nearly three-fourths of discretionary federal spending goes to dependency programs — up from less than a quarter in the early 1960s, according to government figures and calculations by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Another reality Mr. Schneider and others on the right face is that despite their affirmations of traditional values, 40 percent of children in the United States are born to unmarried parents, up from 6 percent at the start of President Johnson’s “war on poverty.”

Single-parent, female-headed families are five times more likely to live in poverty than two-parent families. The government has taken the role of male provider for more and more young, unmarried mothers.

Troubled by these realities while serving his fifth year as a top adviser to Mr. McConnell, Mr. Schneider talked it over with his wife, who said she supported his taking a pay cut if necessary — it turned out he did not have to for the new job — to achieve something they both wanted: the advancement of conservatism at the grass-roots level. He then quietly applied for the ACU job.

From summer to early winter, Mr. Schneider and dozens of other gilt-edged resume holders endured repeated rounds of interviews with the ACU leadership. By Thanksgiving, ACU officials told him he had the job.

Manager and policymaker

In his first interview in the position, the first thing Mr. Schneider does is pull from his wallet a snapshot. It’s not of him with one of the Republican heavyweights he has counseled over the years, but of his beaming 11-year-old son, Alec, standing proudly with a 30-aught-six rifle and, at his feet, a deer the youngster had just shot — his very first.

“Got time for a quick story?” Mr. Schneider asks. He then recounts when the teacher of one of his three sons asked for a drawing about the Revolutionary War but stipulated that the figures had to be shooting bananas, not guns. The son drew an American soldier with an AK-47 and a British soldier holding a banana.

“I thought your teacher said you weren’t allowed to draw guns,” Mr. Schneider told his son. The boy replied, “It isn’t an AK-47, Dad; it’s a banana.”

“My boy instinctively understands freedom and when the left is trying to pursue an agenda that is against freedom,” Mr. Schneider said with pride.

Asked if he saw himself as a manager or a policymaker at the ACU, Mr. Schneider replied, “Both.”

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