Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at the Ziegler Building at the Washington County Fair Park; Conference Center in West Bend, Wisconsin
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Donald Trump hired the pugnacious head of a conservative news website and promoted a woman in a shakeup of his troubled presidential campaign, an indication he is determined to maintain his combative style while honing his message to the voters who have taken him this far.
Stephen Bannon, the head of Breitbart News, the conservative website that is seen as one of the unorthodox candidate's most enthusiastic and steadfast backers, was hired to a new position of campaign CEO. Pollster Kellyanne Conway, who has been an adviser, will take on the role of campaign manager, the Trump campaign announced on Wednesday.
The shake-up comes as Trump faces criticism from many Republicans over a series of controversial statements and opinion polls show him falling behind Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the race for the Nov. 8 election.
Bannon's appointment suggested that Trump is aiming not so much to tone down his aggressive style but to be more disciplined in emphasizing themes that resonate strongly with the voters he is trying to court, such as his stances on immigration and criticism of Clinton.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager who was ousted in June, said on CNN that Bannon was "a street fighter," like himself. The campaign statement announcing the changes touted a Bloomberg Politics article that dubbed Bannon "the most dangerous political operative in America."
Brian Walsh, a Republican strategist who has been critical of Trump in the past, said his embrace of Bannon seemed to indicate the New York businessman had no intention of changing tactics.
"He's rejecting efforts by political professionals to professionalize his campaign and he's going the route he went in the primaries: hard right. It's proven to be a disaster in the general election," Walsh said.
"Anyone who knows anything about politics would look at the current situation and realise he's losing because he's losing moderates, women and minorities. This would actually take it in the opposite direction from where it should be going."
Lewandowski said Conway, who ran a group of Super PACs backing U.S. Senator Ted Cruz's primary campaign, could help Trump with "any gender gap problems that he has."
A New Jersey-based pollster, Conway has worked in Republican polling since the 1980s, including for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s unsuccessful presidential campaign. She also worked for vice presidential nominee Mike Pence in his earlier races.
Conway, who presents conservative viewpoints in frequent appearances on political talk shows, has worked to improve the Republican Party's standing with women voters and to push back on the Democratic accusations that Republicans are waging a "war on women."
Conway and Bannon may prove to be opposing forces in Trump’s campaign. Conway is analytical and numbers-driven and often offers a more pragmatic approach to winning campaigns. Bannon is brash and bombastic, likes to push the limits of polite conversation and revels in taking the fight up a notch.
'WHATEVER IT TAKES'
Trump, a former reality TV star who has never held elected office, drew criticism for comments insulting women, Muslims and Mexican immigrants during the campaign for the Republican White House nomination, which he formally secured last month.
Since then, he has faced a barrage of criticism from Republicans over his freewheeling campaign style and his refusal to stick to a policy message.
In particular, he has been rebuked for his prolonged feud with the family of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who was killed in the Iraq war, and for his unfounded accusation that President Barack Obama and Clinton were the co-founders of the Islamic State militant group. Trump later backed off the comments about Islamic State.
The campaign's announcement on Wednesday quoted Trump as saying he was “committed to doing whatever it takes to win” the election. The campaign also said it would make its first major television commercial purchase later this week.
The staff changes, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, are the second time in two months that Trump has shifted his campaign's leadership. In June, he fired longtime aide Lewandowski as campaign manager and handed more power to senior campaign aide Paul Manafort.
The statement from the Trump campaign said Manafort would remain as campaign chairman and chief strategist.
Manafort drew unwelcome attention to the campaign this week when the New York Times reported that Manafort's name was on secret ledgers showing cash payments designated to him of more than $12 million from a Ukrainian political party with close ties to Russia. Manafort denied any impropriety on Monday.
Ukrainian officials confirmed Manafort's name appeared on a ledger and that more than $12 million had been allocated as an expenditure, but added that the presence of his name did not mean he received the funds.
Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs <GS.N> banker who also served in the U.S. Navy, came under criticism as not supporting Michelle Fields, a reporter who said she was grabbed and bruised by Lewandowski at a March campaign event in Florida. Lewandowski was charged with battery but the charge was later dropped.
Ben Shapiro, a Breitbart editor who resigned from the organisation along with Fields, called Bannon a bully who sold out to "another bully, Donald Trump," to protect Trump's man.
John Feehery, a Republican strategist, said Conway may be able to help Trump among women voters.
"Trump's biggest problem is the women vote. Women can't stand him. I think Kellyanne can help message to that demographic.”