It took Donald Trump exactly two days to undo his new Teleprompter demeanor and turn his campaign on its head again. He demoted campaign manager Paul Manafort in favor of Stephen Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, a team calculated to walk Trump back further into the political wilderness.
No matter what you thought of the content of Trump’s recent speeches, the fact that he was delivering them in a more conventional style gave the impression that he was starting the all-important pivot from sideshow freak to politician. In fact, the Celebrity Apprentice Candidate reality show was continuing off-camera the entire time. The pivot, when it came, turned away from the center, not toward it.
It’s been all bad news for the Trump campaign lately. Poll numbers are going through the floor. He was blaming his opponent, Hillary Clinton, until recently, when he declared the media as the true scourge and President Obama and Clinton as the founders of ISIS. He dog-whistled his Second Amendment friends what to do when President Hillary Clinton nominates Supreme Court Judges unacceptable to the Duck Dynasty crowd. This situation cried out for a campaign chief who knows how to put out fires. Instead, he hired someone who brings his own Molotov Cocktails.
Stephen Bannon is now CEO of the campaign. He is the former chairman of Breitbart News, the late Andrew Breitbart’s conservative e-zine for the Torch and Pitchfork Crowd. A former Goldman Sachs investment banker turned Sarah Palin acolyte, Bannon was named the Most Dangerous Political Operative in America in October 2015 by Bloomberg News. For example, Bannon thinks that Fox News is too soft and needs to take the gloves off.
Kellyanne Conway was promoted to campaign manager. Conway is a lawyer and pollster. She had been a GOP operative since 1988. Trump first tried hiring Conway while she had been running Ted Cruz’s super-PAC. When his campaign collapsed, Trump hired her initially to improve Trump’s image with women.
The story within the story is that Manafort had been a compromise choice, acceptable to the Republican National Committee and Trump. After six weeks, Trump’s campaign was failing and, hey, you can’t fire the candidate, can you?
Actually, the RNC had been working on trying to dump Trump but hadn’t found a way out of its mess. After exploring the legal and electoral consequences, it reallocated its resources to protect the down-ballot candidates in the House and Senate, where the GOP currently holds majorities. Its hold on the Senate is tenuous and especially troubling. Retaining Senate control is the key to blocking any of Clinton’s judicial nominees.
Finally, the RNC pulled back on its operational support. This, in turn, caused Trump to fire the RNC symbolically, by canning Manafort. Hiring Bannon was Trump’s declaration of war. Trump accompanied this staff turnover with the announcement that he will not pivot. Trump’s going to dance with the one who brought him, even if they both fall off the dance floor.