Donald Trump’s topsy-turvy presidential candidacy took another turn late Tuesday night as he added new leadership to his campaign team -- its second major course correction in less than two months.
Kellyanne Conway, a longtime Republican operative who was serving as a senior adviser and a pollster for Trump, was promoted to campaign manager, a role that had been officially vacant since Corey Lewandowski was fired in late July. In a more surprising hire, Trump added Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his campaign’s chief executive officer.
In an email to CBS News, Conway said the moves weren’t a “shakeup” but merely “an expansion of our team at a busy time in the campaign homestretch.” Trump told The Associated Press, “They’re terrific people, they’re winners, they’re champs, and we need to win it.”
Conway also said Paul Manafort, who’s been Trump’s de facto campaign manager, will remain in his role as campaign chairman and his deputy, Rick Gates, will remain in a senior role.
Manafort has been the subject of controversy due to his past dealings in Ukraine. The New York Times earlier this week reported the discovery by Ukrainian anti-corruption officials of handwritten ledgers showing $12.7 million earmarked for undisclosed cash payments to Manafort from former Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych’s political party from 2007 to 2012.
Trump’s poll numbers, both nationally and in battleground states, have plummeted since the conventions. In the latest NBC News/Survey Monkey poll, Trump is down by nine points nationally - 50 to 41 percent.
Republicans have practically pled with Trump for a course correction and to become a more palatable general election candidate. Thus far, Trump has resisted.
Even on Tuesday, in an interview with CBS LaCrosse, Wisconsin affiliate WKBT-TV, he said, “I don’t want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you. If you start pivoting, you’re not being honest with people.”
Adding a conservative firebrand like Bannon to the top ranks of his campaign may show how intent Trump is on staying the same. Breitbart, a conservative site founded by late conservative activist Andrew Breitbart, is known for being staunchly pro-Trump and for consistently throwing broadsides against the Republican establishment, the very same establishment Trump has alternately extended olive branches to and alienated.
Bannon interviewed Trump multiple times throughout this campaign on Breitbart News Daily, the outlet’s Sirius XM radio show. In a June interview on the day after the mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub, Trump implied to Bannon that President Obama had a connection to Islam.
“And we were watching Obama’s speech and people started booing toward the end because they realized he again was not gonna mention the term radical Islamic terrorism,” Trump said. “And it’s just not in him and perhaps you’ll explain to everybody why, because there’s lots of different reasons, I guess, but no reason that I would understand or that you would understand. There’s something going on there that is very, very strange.”
In a May interview with Trump, Bannon said House Speaker Paul Ryan was withholding his endorsement of Trump to pressure the GOP nominee to dropping some of his more controversial positions. Trump told Bannon he wouldn’t change his stands to assuage the speaker.
Bannon and Trump also spoke at the Tea Party Convention in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in January.