Republican Nominee Donald Trump Shakes Up Top Campaign Staff

Aug 17, 2016
Originally published on August 17, 2016 6:46 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Donald Trump has a new team running his campaign. Early this morning the Republican presidential nominee named a new campaign manager and a new CEO of his campaign. It's a shakeup that comes at a time that Trump has been under pressure to change his ways on the campaign trail. In the weeks since the conventions, he's struggled to compete in key battleground states with Democrat Hillary Clinton.

NPR's Sarah McCammon joins us from Trump Tower in New York City where Trump spent the day with his staff. And Sarah, tell us more about these new hires.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: OK, so there's Stephen Bannon. He's taking leave from the conservative and largely pro-Trump news site Breitbart News where he's the executive chairman to work as the campaign's chief executive officer, then Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster and adviser to Trump before stepping into the campaign manager role. Now, that's a role that's been vacant since Corey Lewandowski was fired in June.

So, Audie, Chairman Paul Manafort, who had effectively taken the campaign manager role after Lewandowski's departure, is still with the campaign along with his deputy. And Conway spoke to reporters today here at Trump Tower. She called this an expansion at a time when the campaign is very busy heading into the final stretch. And she said that Steve Bannon will be manning headquarters in New York, and she'll largely be traveling with Donald Trump.

CORNISH: Donald Trump's given some speeches, stuck to the teleprompter, reportedly evidence of the influence of Paul Manafort. You mentioned him having taken over for Corey Lewandowski, who managed Trump during the primary season. What is...

MCCAMMON: Right.

CORNISH: ...Manafort's role going to be going forward? Like, what do these staff changes tell us about the direction the campaign's going in?

MCCAMMON: Well, you know, Conway, when I was speaking with her earlier, praised Manafort. She praised his statesmanship, as she put it, said that he'll be continuing to stay in touch with members of Congress who are supporting Trump.

As far as the direction of the campaign - Steve Bannon has a reputation for tough rhetoric. Lewandowski has described him as a street fighter. And you know, Conway was asked whether the campaign is going to get nastier now. She said you'll have to ask Hillary Clinton about that, but then she added that this is not a Tea Party - so sort of implying that, you know, we may see some tougher rhetoric.

What's notable about Bannon is that Breitbart News under his leadership has really channeled the anger of the GOP establishment from - anger at the establishment from the conservative movement - you know, this sort of vein of populism, a hard line on illegal immigration that Trump has taken. So if anyone's looking for a change in tone from Trump, hiring Steve Bannon doesn't signal that.

And then Conway stressed that she wants this campaign to be about issues, which is really a big part of her job - being on the road with Trump, having his ear before he gives speeches, making sure his message is coming across effectively. You know, she is a pollster, so that's something she has a background in. And, Audie, one thing a source close to the campaign told me today is that Trump clearly, quote, "wants someone who doesn't want to change him but just wants to make him a better bulldozer operator."

CORNISH: In the meantime, Donald Trump received his first classified intelligence briefing today in New York. What more do you know about that?

MCCAMMON: So NPR was told that Trump was bringing two advisers with him - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former federal prosecutor, and also the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn. We know that he sat down for a national security roundtable here at Trump Tower today with more than a dozen advisers, including Flynn and also New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

I was allowed in that meeting just for a couple of minutes, and one of the big topics was anti-terrorism surveillance and how to frame surveillance of places like mosques. Giuliani noted that when he became mayor of New York, one of the first things he did was put police officers in mosques. And they were talking about how to communicate about that to the public.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Sarah McCammon at Trump Tower in New York. Sarah, thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.