Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made the second major shake-up in his staff within two months, hiring staffers who embrace his bombastic, populist style, according to those within and close to the campaign.
The shake-up comes after Rebekah Mercer, daughter of Long Island hedge fund manager and mega-campaign donor Robert Mercer, reportedly talked to Trump in the Hamptons this weekend about adjusting his campaign strategy.
The Trump campaign confirmed Wednesday that Stephen K. Bannon, executive chairman for the conservative opinion and news organization Breitbart News, would become the campaign’s CEO. Trump also announced that Kellyanne Conway, a national pollster, is his new campaign manager.
The change pushes aside Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman who had tried to moderate Trump’s style to appeal to a broader range of voters. According to The New York Times this week, Manafort had been named in a corruption investigation in Ukraine involving illegal payments from a pro-Russian political party that had once hired him. Manafort has denied receiving any improper payments.
Trump said Wednesday he has known Bannon and Conway “for many years.”
“They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” Trump said in a statement.
Former Trump senior adviser Michael Caputo said Bannon is “brilliant, probably one of the most creative people on the right I have ever met. He has great ideas on strategy, messaging and I expect his positions to be felt immediately.
Caputo said he’s known Conway since they worked for former Rep. Jack Kemp (R-Buffalo). “Donald Trump trusts and listens to her,” said Caputo, who left the campaign in June after thencampaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired.
The campaign shake-up comes as polls show Trump trailing Clinton nationally and in key battleground states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania after a series of missteps, including his criticism of the Gold Star parents of a Muslim U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan. In New York, the latest Siena College survey had Clinton up by 30 percentage points.
The Washington Post quoted three Republicans who said Trump talked with Rebekah Mercer about making the campaign more closely reflect the nominee’s brash style. It was at that discussion that Bannon was suggested for the new post, the newspaper said.
The Mercer family is a major investor in Breitbart News as well as a super PAC opposing Clinton.
In July, the Mercers shifted their allegiance to Trump from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, federal records showed. Mercer, of East Setauket, had invested $13.5 million in a super PAC to back the Texas senator’s presidential ambitions, which ended when Cruz quit the race in May.
“There is a lot more money possibly coming in,” said Caputo. “It’s a natural progression of things, a financier who wants to be involved in presidential campaign turning to the nominee.”
“Mercer, a suburbanite himself, and a handful of other billionaires who have been sitting on the sidelines backing others, are perhaps his last best hope to be able to be competitive beyond his base,” said Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
Mercer didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Clinton supporters say Trump’s latest shake-up shows the campaign is imploding. Clinton campaign manager Robby Mook said Trump is “doubling down on his most small, divisive and nasty instincts” in hiring Bannon of Breitbart News — an outlet, Mook said, that “trafficks” in “delusional” conspiracy theories and defends white supremacists.
Those close to Trump say the billionaire’s critics who counted him out a year ago are wrong again.
“Mr. Trump is still paying the price for running a lean-and-mean primary campaign,” Caputo said. “There’s a price you pay when you are staffing up. There is a lag time when people hit the ground and actually pick up the pace.
“This isn’t a meltdown,” he said. “This is a build up.”
With Yancey Roy