A press release arrived in reporters’ inboxes Wednesday morning trumpeting two major hires for the flagging Trump campaign: Steve Bannon, executive chairman of Brietbart.com, was coming on board as chief executive and Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway would become campaign manager. Bannon will oversee the campaign staff and operations and perform “strategic oversight,” while Conaway will be in charge of “messaging.”
Embattled campaign chair Paul Manafort — who took charge of the campaign after former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was ejected in June — would be functionally replaced by these hires, but was staying on and keeping his title.
Despite the obvious connotations, Trump surrogates spent much of their day on TV, furiously disputing the idea that the installation of two new advisers into the campaign’s highest echelons constituted a “shake up.” Instead, Donald Trump prefers to think of it as an expansion. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics,” Trump said in a statement. “I am committed to doing whatever it takes to win this election.” It’s going to take a lot — Trump is down in every poll, losing to Hillary Clinton by an average of six points nationally, and by more in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Virginia.
Here’s a primer on the folks he’s hoping will help him turn it around:
Before Bannon was the executive chairman of Breitbart.com, he was a Navy officer then an investment banker whose boutique firm lucked into a share of Seinfeld royalties after negotiating the sale of Castle Rock Entertainment back in 1993. (The story, as told to Bloomberg‘s Joshua Green, went something like this: “We told [the sellers, who were about to back out], ‘You ought to take this deal. It’s a great deal.’ And they go, ‘If this is such a great deal, why don’t you defer some of your cash fee and keep an ownership stake in a package of TV rights?’ In lieu of a full adviser’s fee, the firm accepted a stake in five shows, including one in its third season regarded as the runt of the litter: Seinfeld.”)
Bannon used the fortune he accrued in banking and entertainment to found the Government Accountability Institute, a nonprofit whose mission is to “expose crony capitalism, misuse of taxpayer monies, and other government corruption or malfeasance.” If the name sounds familiar, it’s because GAI’s president, Peter Schweizer (a friend of Bannon’s) researched and wrote the book Clinton Cash, a stinging indictment of the Clinton Global Initiative, published last year.
Bannon has been involved with Breitbart.com since the site’s founding in 2007, but he took on a more active role after the death of site’s namesake, Andrew Breitbart, in 2012. With Bannon at its helm, the site has moved in a decidedly more provocative direction, publishing items like “Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy,” “World Health Organization Report: Trannies 49xs Higher HIV Rate,” “6 Reasons Pamela Geller’s Muhammad Cartoon Contest Is No Different From Selma” and “Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew,” among others. In April, the watchdog Southern Poverty Law Center made the case that the website had essentially transformed into the media arm of the bigoted Alt-Right fringe movement.
On Wednesday, former Breitbart editor Ben Shapiro called Bannon a “legitimately sinister figure” who “turned Breitbart into Trump Pravda for his own personal gain” in a piece published Wednesday on the Daily Wire. “He is a vindictive, nasty figure, infamous for verbally abusing supposed friends and threatening enemies. Bannon is a smarter version of Trump: He’s an aggressive self-promoter who name-drops to heighten his profile and woo bigger names, and then uses those bigger names as stepping stools to his next destination. Trump may be his final destination. Or it may not,” Shapiro wrote.
Bannon, according to the campaign statement put out on Wednesday morning, will be “temporarily stepping down from his role with Breitbart News to work full-time” on the Trump campaign.
Conway, the founder of the Polling Company, Inc./WomanTrend, has worked for Newt Gingrich, Marsha Blackburn, Steve King, Todd Akin and, more recently, Ted Cruz and Mike Pence. During the primary, Conway headed up the pro-Cruz super PAC Keep the Promise 1, which ran ads against Trump. Despite Cruz’s own reluctance to endorse Trump, Keep the Promise 1 rebranded as Defeat Crooked Hillary PAC in June. The PAC was funded in large part by donations from hedge funder Robert Mercer who is also a significant backer of GAI, the nonprofit behind Clinton Cash. (Daughter Rebekah sits on GAI’s board of directors.)
Conway — whose services, New York reports, are often enlisted to help conservative Republican men tailor their message to win over women voters — has tried out gendered attacks on Hillary Clinton in the past. She’s criticized Clinton, for instance, for not “standing u” to her husband Bill Clinton. “The fact is that Hillary Clinton could not stand up to a cheating husband, so how in the world would she stand up to North Korea and some of our other enemies around the globe?” On CNN in 2004, Conway said Clinton “wasn’t popular until her husband treated her like a doormat.”
Conway’s own husband, George, is an old enemy of the Clinton’s as well, having assisted Paula Jones’ legal team in their suit against Bill Clinton.
…and then there’s Roger Ailes
The recently ousted Fox News chairman and former Nixon adviser is assisting Trump with his debate preparation, according to the New York Times. (Trump spokesperson Katrina Pierson denied the report that Ailes is working with the campaign on Wednesday.) Ailes also helped ready Ronald Reagan and George Bush for their presidential debates. He has nothing but time; Ailes departed Fox in July after more than 20 women came forward with accusations of sexual harassment and much, much worse.
123 Republicans signed an open letter urging the RNC to abandon Donald Trump financially. Watch here.