Trump appointed Stephen Bannon, a former banker who operates the conservative outlet Breitbart News, to serve as his campaign’s chief executive. The candidate also named Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway his new campaign manager.
The businessman turned politician downplayed those significant changes, saying the leadership shakeup is part of the broader “growth” of his campaign.
Yet the maneuvers came, coincidentally, one day after a series of polls showed him falling significantly behind Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in two important swing states.
Politico described the new polling data as “brutal” for the Trump campaign. The news outlet said a Monmouth University poll on Tuesday found that Clinton has a 9-point lead in Florida — winning 12 percent of the state’s Republican voters. Meanwhile, a Washington Post poll in Virginia placed her 14 points ahead of Trump.
“Perhaps more damaging” for Trump is the 6-point lead that his Democratic rival has opened in battleground states, according to Politico’s own polling data.
In making the leadership changes, Trump also downplayed what it seems to suggest about the future of campaign chairman Paul Manafort with his team.
The Post said the decision was an apparent rebuke for Manafort’s attempt to get Trump to moderate his combative and abrasive style. Manafort will keep his job title, but play a diminished role in the campaign.
This shakeup coincides with back-to-back reports about Manafort’s involvement in a Ukrainian corruption probe and his role in helping foreign interests influence American policy.
The New York Times reported on Sunday that Manafort’s name appears in a secret ledger of the pro-Russian political party of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych as receiving $12 million in undisclosed cash payments, which Manafort denied receiving.
On Wednesday, The Hill reported that Manafort is alleged to have helped a Ukrainian pro-Russian political party deliver more than $2 million to lobbyists in Washington. The story is based on an Associated Press investigation that said the source of payments were concealed to hide the attempt to influence U.S. elected officials.
Many have raised questions about whether Manafort has influenced Trump’s pro-Russian positions on foreign policy issues.
But Trump’s flirtation with controversy continues with his appointment of Bannon, who has an affinity for the White nationalist cause, according to The Daily Beast.
Peter Brimelow, editor of the White supremacist website VDARE.com, praised Bannon’s new role in the Trump campaign.
“…Breitbart emerged as a nationalist site and done great stuff on immigration in particular,” Brimelow told The Daily Beast, commenting on Bannon’s influence on Breitbart’s content.
“Bannon is a take-no-prisoners, show-no-mercy, bare-knuckles brawler, which is great for his segment of the conservative base,” Republican strategist Rick Tyler told The Wall Street Journal.
Tyler, who was an aide to Trump’s rival Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, was surprised by the move because Trump already has the GOP’s extreme right-wing in his corner.