Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump announced a major campaign shake-up late Tuesday night, appointing a new campaign CEO and a new campaign manager while declaring that he is “committed to doing whatever it takes to win this election, and ultimately become president.”
Considering who Trump has selected to run his struggling show, that promise to do “whatever it takes to win” should not be taken lightly.
Trump named Steve Bannon, the executive chairman of Breitbart News, as his new CEO. Bannon has no campaign experience, but has become a major figure in fringe Republican circles in part because of his stewardship of Breitbart News in the years following the death of its eponymous founder, Andrew Breitbart.
Bannon’s nomination suggests that a months-long effort by senior Republicans, including Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, to force the GOP nominee to run a less outrageous campaign has failed. Given his approach to politics while at Breitbart, Bannon’s ascension almost certainly signals the beginning of an even more chaotic fight for the White House.
A stew of standards-free reporting and extreme opinion writing, Breitbart News is afforded little or no respect from the mainstream media -- a fact it wears as a badge of honor. The website traffics in thinly-sourced sensationalism and is reliably pro-Trump in virtually every respect. The election has proven to be good for Breitbart, which reported record traffic in July.
For a profile published by Bloomberg last year, Bannon told writer Joshua Green about his reaction when one of his reporters conflated then-Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch with a completely different attorney who had represented Bill and Hillary Clinton during the investigation of the Whitewater controversy in the early 1990s.
Breitbart played the story up as a major scoop until the error was pointed out. It had to correct the story, and eventually scrubbed it from the site entirely, but Bannon was unfazed.
“We’re honey badgers,” he told Green. “We don’t give a s---.”
Breitbart has in recent months married its lack of interest in the truth with absolute devotion to the Trump cause. Last year, after Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was accused of manhandling a Breitbart reporter at a Trump event, the website’s management team took Lewandowski’s side in the dispute.
Trump also named GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway as his new campaign director. A former attorney with strong conservative connections, Conway is not nearly as controversial a figure as Bannon. She regularly appears as a commentator on cable television and has worked for a number of Republican politicians as well as numerous private businesses.
Conway takes the place of Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has been the de facto campaign manager since the dismissal of Lewandowski, who helped Trump through the early primary states but was jettisoned as part of an unsuccessful effort to turn the Trump campaign into something resembling a normal presidential candidacy.
Manafort’s previous work for dictators and strongmen around the world has increasingly become a distraction for the Trump campaign. This week it was revealed that his name appears in a ledger that appears to detail under-the-table payments made by the political party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. The ledger suggests that Manafort received some $12 million in undisclosed payments from the Kremlin-friendly political operation, which was overthrown in 2014 in a popular uprising. Manafort has strenuously denied accepting any illicit payments.
The campaign said that Manafort will remain in his position as chairman.
In a statement released by the Trump campaign, Manafort said, “It is imperative we continue to expand our team with top-tier talent. Steve and Kellyanne are respected professionals who believe in Mr. Trump and his message and will undoubtedly help take the campaign to new levels of success.”
Bannon and Conway come aboard as the Trump campaign is widely seen as flailing. The Republican nominee is trailing badly in most national polls, and even states that have typically been seen as “battlegrounds” in recent presidential elections appear to be lining up solidly behind Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.