Donald Trump, following weeks of gnawing agitation over his advisers’ attempts to temper his style, moved late Tuesday to overhaul his struggling campaign by rebuffing those efforts and elevating two longtime associates who have encouraged his combative populism.
Stephen Bannon, a former banker who runs the influential conservative outlet Breitbart News and is known for his fiercely anti-establishment politics, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive. Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster who has been close to Trump for years, will assume the role of campaign manager.
Two Trump campaign aides confirmed the staff’s reshuffle early Wednesday, requesting anonymity to discuss personnel changes without permission.
Trump issued a statement hours later. “I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” he said. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”
The campaign played down the notion that Trump was reacting to the polls or saw his bid in crisis.
“These announcements come at a time of significant growth for Mr. Trump’s campaign, with the first major TV ad buy of the general election slated to start later this week and with additional top-flight operatives joining the movement on a near-daily basis,” the campaign said in the statement.
The Wall Street Journal first reported the moves.
Trump’s stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clearly than ever, that the real-estate magnate intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side.
While Manafort, a seasoned operative who joined the campaign in March, will remain in his role, the advisers described his status internally as diminished due to Trump’s unhappiness and restlessness in recent weeks.
While Trump respects Manafort, the aides said, he has grown to feel “boxed in” and “controlled” by people who barely know him. Moving forward, he plans to focus intensely on rousing his voters at rallies and through media appearances.
Trump’s turn away from Manafort is in part a reversion to how he ran his campaign in the primary with then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Lewandowski’s mantra was “let Trump be Trump” and Trump wants to get back to that type of campaign culture, the aides said.
In Bannon especially, Trump is turning to an alter ego — a colorful, edgy figure on the right who has worked at Goldman Sachs and made several films, including a documentary about former Alaska governor Sarah Palin.
Bannon, in phone calls and meetings, has been urging Trump for months to not mount a fall campaign that makes Republican donors and officials comfortable, the aides said. Instead, Bannon has been telling Trump to run more fully as an outsider and an unabashed nationalist.
Trump has listened intently to Bannon and agreed with him, believing that voters will ultimately want a presidential candidate who represents disruption more than a candidate with polished appeal, the aides said.
“I want to win,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal. “That’s why I’m bringing on fantastic people who know how to win and love to win.”
The campaign said in its statement that Bannon, a former Navy officer, would be “temporarily stepping down from his role with Breitbart News to work full-time on Mr. Trump’s campaign in a new position designed to bolster the business-like approach of Mr. Trump’s campaign.”
“Mr. Bannon,” it continued, “once recognized by Bloomberg Politics as the ‘most dangerous political operative in America,’ will oversee the campaign staff and operations in addition to strategic oversight of major campaign initiatives in addition to working with Mr. Manafort.”
Manafort, in a statement, said that he is sure the additions will “undoubtedly help take the campaign to new levels of success.”
“Buckle up,” wrote a Trump strategist in a text message Wednesday to The Washington Post.
Trump’s decision developed over the weekend as he traveled to the Hamptons in New York for a Saturday evening fundraiser at the home of Woody Johnson, the wealthy Republican benefactor who owns the New York Jets.
According to three Republicans familiar with that event, Trump was confronted by several supporters there, including mega-donor Rebekah Mercer, about news reports on his advisers’ desire to tame his personality.
Trump was visibly infuriated at those stories, the Republicans said, and he conferred with Mercer about potential steps he might take to remake his campaign and populate his inner circle with voices more like his own.
Bannon’s name soon came up. Mercer, the daughter of hedge-fund titan Robert Mercer, spoke highly of him. (The Mercer family is a prominent investor in Breitbart News as well as in a super PAC opposing Hillary Clinton.) Trump did the same and told her they had been talking.
By Sunday, as Manafort appeared on network television shows, Trump was stewing and dialing up his friends, the Republicans said. He connected with his son-in-law and trusted adviser Jared Kushner, who has been on vacation in Europe. Then he called Conway and Bannon, ruminating aloud on how they could help him jolt his stalled candidacy.
The Journal reported that Bannon met with Trump later on Sunday at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., to “lay out his new thinking for the campaign team” — with Manafort joining that meeting.
Bannon and Conway, who are friendly, both told Trump they’d be willing to work together and that they understood Trump’s vision for the rest of the campaign, the Republicans said. While careful to not be critical of Manafort — Conway has referred to the changes as an “expansion” rather than a shake-up — they told Trump they would be dedicated to sharpening his message rather than handling him.
Bannon came to the conversation armed with ideas about how to promote Trump nationally and underscore his populism. Conway, who worked on Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign and has long counted Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, as a client, had thoughts on how Trump could reach out to more women and suburban voters.
Bannon quickly began to prepare for a takeover. He was spotted at Trump Tower on Monday and worked there Tuesday though he did not travel with Trump.
The three Republicans requested anonymity due to sensitivity of the campaign shake-up and their relationships with Trump, Bannon and Conway.
Moving forward, Trump is hopeful that Manafort will remain involved and a leader within the campaign with a possible emphasis on building Trump’s Washington operation, one of the Republicans said.
But Bannon’s position could make any attempt to smooth relations in Washington difficult. Breitbart News has been harshly critical of House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and is seen as an antagonistic organ by congressional GOP leaders….