By JILL COLVIN and JULIE PACE, Associated Press
TETERBORO, N.J. — Republican Donald Trump announced a shakeup of his campaign leadership Wednesday, the latest sign of tumult in his bid for the White House as his poll numbers slip and only 82 days remain before the election.
The billionaire real estate mogul named Stephen Bannon of the conservative Breitbart News website as chief executive officer and promoted pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. Paul Manafort, Trump’s controversial campaign chairman, will retain his title, but it is unclear if his role will change.
In tapping Bannon for a top campaign role, Trump is doubling down on his outsider appeal rather than appeasing more traditional Republicans. The conservative Breitbart figure has been a cheerleader for Trump’s campaign for months and was critical of Republican leaders, including Ryan. Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs banker and does not bring presidential campaign experience to Trump’s White House bid.
Trump has resisted pleas from fellow Republicans to overhaul the flame-throwing approach on the campaign trail that powered his surge to the top of the Republican field in the primary season. Instead of working to broaden his appeal, Trump has largely hewed to the large rallies and attention-grabbing comments that appealed to the party base.
Conway joined Trump’s campaign earlier this year as a senior adviser. A longtime Republican strategist and pollster, she has close ties to Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
“I’ve known both of them for a long time. They’re terrific people, they’re winners, they’re champs, and we need to win it,” Trump told The Associated Press in a phone interview early Wednesday.
Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who has been traveling often with Trump, is expected to maintain a senior role with the campaign.
Manafort, who took over the reins following the departure of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in June, has come under scrutiny because of his past work for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party. The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Manafort helped the party secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, doing so in a way that effectively obscured the party’s efforts to influence U.S. policy. Gates, who had worked with Manafort on Ukrainian issues, told the AP he and Manafort had consulted with the lobbying firms on Ukrainian politics, but called the actions lawful.
The campaign shakeup, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes as polls show Trump trailing Clinton nationally and in key battleground states following a difficult campaign stretch that saw him insulting the Muslim parents of a soldier who died in Iraq and temporarily refraining from endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan in his primary race.
Trump has resisted pressure to change his campaign style.
“You know, I am who I am,” he told a local Wisconsin television station Tuesday. “It’s me. I don’t want to change. Everyone talks about, ‘Oh, well you’re going to pivot, you’re going to.’ I don’t want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you. If you start pivoting, you’re not being honest with people.”
Conway called the moves “an expansion at a critical time in the homestretch.”
Details of the new pecking order were hashed out at a lengthy senior staff meeting at Trump Tower Tuesday while Trump was on the road. A statement announcing the hires was released Wednesday. Additional senior hires are expected soon.
Trump, whose campaign is built on his persona as a winner, said several times Wednesday that the campaign was “doing well,” and said his speech hours earlier in Wisconsin Tuesday was well-received.
“We’re going to be doing something very dramatic,” Trump added.
Trump’s campaign announced earlier that it would finally begin airing its first ads of the general election next week in the battleground states of Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
While polls have shown Clinton building a lead following last month’s convention, Democrats fear that a depressed voter turnout might diminish support among the minority, young and female voters who powered Obama to two victories.
Clinton said at a voter registration event at a Philadelphia high school that she’s “not taking anybody anywhere for granted” in the race for the White House.
In the Wisconsin outing Tuesday, Trump accused Clinton of “bigotry” and being “against the police,” claiming that she and other Democrats have “betrayed the African American community” and pandered for votes.
Trump charged that Clinton has been on the side of the rioters in Milwaukee, declaring: “Our opponent Hillary would rather protect the offender than the victim.”
“The riots and destruction that have taken place in Milwaukee is an assault on the right of all citizens to live in security and to live in peace,” he said.
The Clinton campaign responded by accusing Trump of being the bigot instead.
“With each passing Trump attack, it becomes clearer that his strategy is just to say about Hillary Clinton what’s true of himself. When people started saying he was temperamentally unfit, he called Hillary the same. When his ties to the Kremlin came under scrutiny, he absurdly claimed that Hillary was the one who was too close to Putin. Now he’s accusing her of bigoted remarks — We think the American people will know which candidate is guilty of the charge,” spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri said in a statement early Wednesday.