Breitbart to the rescue: Trump hires head of right-wing website as his latest top campaign aide

Move over Paul Manafort. Trump adds the executive chairman of Breitbart News as his new top campaign staffer

By Sophia Tesfaye

Published August 17, 2016 1:11PM (EDT)

Donald Trump   (Reuters/Eric Thayer)
Donald Trump (Reuters/Eric Thayer)

“I want to win,” lagging Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump assured the Wall Street Journal after rejecting any so-called presidential pivot only months ahead of the general election.

“That’s why I’m bringing on fantastic people who know how to win and love to win.”

To that point, Trump announced the hiring of two people with no experience having ever run a presidential campaign to the top two positions on his campaign in yet another surprise shakeup.

With new reports of direct cash payments to current Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and allegations of undisclosed lobbying on behalf of the pro-Russian Ukrainian government, the political neophyte appears to be looking for dramatic change to turn around his flailing campaign. On Tuesday, reports broke (and were later denied) of ex-Fox News chief, and recently accused serial sexual harasser, Roger Ailes migrating over to the Trump campaign to prep the candidate for debates. Hours later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Breitbart News Chairman Stephen K. Bannon had been added to the campaign as campaign chief executive, along with Republican pollster and CNN contributor Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager.

“I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years," Trump told the Associated Press. “They’re terrific people, they’re winners, they’re champs, and we need to win it.”

Of course, Breitbart was the most vocally pro-Trump conservative websites during the GOP primary and even commissioned its own poll, arguing that "it’s an open secret that polls are often manipulated and spun to create momentum for a particular candidate or issue.” Its inaugural poll found Hillary Clinton beating Trump nationally by 5 percentage points.

In a press release announcing Bannon's hiring, the Trump campaign pointed to this passage from a 2015 Bloomberg profile:

Bannon is the executive chairman of Breitbart News, the crusading right-wing populist website that’s a lineal descendant of the Drudge Report (its late founder, Andrew Breitbart, spent years apprenticing with Matt Drudge) and a haven for people who think Fox News is too polite and restrained. He’d spent the day at CPAC among the conservative faithful, zipping back and forth between his SiriusXM booth and an unlikely pair of guests he was squiring around: Nigel Farage, the leader of Britain’s right-wing UKIP party, and Phil Robertson, the bandanna’d, ayatollah-bearded Duck Dynasty patriarch who was accepting a free-speech award. CPAC is a beauty contest for Republican presidential hopefuls. But Robertson, a novelty adornment invited after A&E suspended him for denouncing gays, delivered a wild rant about “beatniks” and sexually transmitted diseases that upstaged them all, to Bannon’s evident delight. “If there’s an explosion or a fire somewhere,” says Matthew Boyle, Breitbart’s Washington political editor, “Steve’s probably nearby with some matches.” Afterward, everyone piled into party buses and headed for the townhouse.

Bannon credits his website with providing Trump his campaign's guiding platform.

“It’s not that Trump’s late to the party,” Bannon told the Huffington Post last month, “But he kind of came and picked up those themes.”

“His thing on illegal alien crime was literally taken off the pages of Breitbart,” Bannon explained, adding of Trump's controversial campaign kick-off speech accusing Mexico of sending rapists to the U.S.:"He was speaking of many of the themes we’ve been covering for years.”

Conway, a veteran pollster, was brought onto the campaign as a consultant earlier this summer, tasked with endearing the thrice-divorced candidate with women voters. In 2012, one of Conway's client was Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin.

Although he has effectively been pushed out of the position he wrestled away from former top campaign aide Corey Lewandowski in June, Manafort was forced to offer his words of approval on the restructuring of the campaign.

“It is imperative we continue to expand our team with top-tier talent," Manafort said in a campaign statement. "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.”

According to Washinton Post reporter Robert Costa, Trump became irritated with Manafort after he attempted to "get Trump to be more disciplined" and decided to add Conway and Bannon in a move largely seen as a demotion of Manafort:

Conway told The New York Times that Manafort is expected to stay on the campaign, for now:

“It’s an expansion at a busy time in the final stretch of the campaign,” she said, adding that Mr. Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, would remain in their roles.

“We met as the ‘core four’ today,” Ms. Conway added, referring to herself, Mr. Bannon, Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates.

People briefed on the move said that it reflected Mr. Trump’s realization that his campaign was at a crisis point. But it indicates that the candidate — who has chafed at making the types of changes his current aides have asked for, even though he had acknowledged they would need to occur — has decided to embrace his aggressive style for the duration of the race.

Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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