Donald Trump has long been one part political bomb thrower and one part pollster – and now he’s got campaign leaders who are experts in each to back him up.
Pollster Kellyanne Conway was promoted overnight to take the helm of the Republican nominee’s flailing presidential bid as campaign manager, with Stephen Bannon joining from Breitbart News to be the campaign’s CEO.
Announced in a flurry of news in the wee hours of Tuesday night, the surprise campaign shakeup comes amid dipping poll numbers and a growing list of unforced errors as the Republican nominee’s campaign struggles to turn a successful primary strategy into a viable general election approach.
As the pair takes over running campaign staff and operations, with the campaign’s former leader, chairman Paul Manafort, here's a look at the new duo running the Trump train.
Bannon perfected the political firestorm.
Once dubbed “the most dangerous political operative in America” by Bloomberg Businessweek, the Breitbart head is known for starting political fires. It was Bannon and the late Andrew Breitbart who, tipped off to then Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter habits, paid trackers to obsessively follow his Twitter account and eventually screen-cap the crotch shot that would ruin his career.
The hire signals that Trump won’t be shying away from the controversy, attacks, and conspiracy theories that have marked his campaign so far. Even as his poll numbers have dropped and those messages appear less-than successful in the general election, the message is Trump will be Trump.
“I am who I am. It’s me. I don’t want to change. Everyone talks about, 'oh well you’re going to pivot.' ... I don’t want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you. If you start pivoting, you’re not being honest with people,” Trump said in an interview Tuesday before the shake-up was announced.
But Bannon also knows how to work within the system.
Despite Breitbart’s routine derision of the mainstream media and political establishment, Bannon also works quietly behind the scenes through a group called the Government Accountability Institute to push forward fact-based attack narratives to mainstream outlets in hopes of a wider reach – and more potency thanks to outlet credibility -- that plays a big role in mainstream politics
To wit: he was the architect of one of the most potent attacks on Trump’s democratic rival Hillary Clinton, in the form of a HarperCollins-published investigative book, "Clinton Cash," which shed doubt on the former Secretary of State’s relationship to the Clinton Foundation.
He doesn’t like Paul Ryan, or really any of the GOP.
The shake-up doesn't signal more party unity. Under Bannon's leadership, Breitbart has routinely derided House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan – he “betrayed” America, a 2015 headline read, claiming his budget bill was a “sell-out of the American people” -- and other establishment Republicans. Marco Rubio promoted “amnesty” on the debate stage, they argued. Ohio Gov. John Kasich was “pro-Amnesty,” they wrote in a headline about a critic’s claim he be tried for “treason.” Sen. Ted Cruz “loves himself more than our country,” read one opinion article. He even gave former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush the "Clinton Cash" treatment with a book called "Bush Bucks" that alleged that the son and brother of past Republican presidents used his role as governor to personally enrich himself.
If Bannon is the id of team Trump, Conway is its super ego.
Conway is a well-respected political strategist who is perhaps one of the most established strategists working for Trump. She has worked for a host of Republican leaders, including Rep. Jack Kemp, Reagan’s pollster, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, firebrand conservative Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Steve King, Sen. Ted Cruz, and Mike Pence -- the Indiana governor who is now Trump’s running mate.
She’s been a DC insider and nationally-respected pollster for decades – most recently running a super PAC supporting Ted Cruz’s bid. And she's quick to claim she the only GOP pollster to predict Romney’s loss in 2012, a nod perhaps to maintaining her outsider credibility.
She still has had her own handful of controversial flaps, though: in 2013, Conway told House Republicans to stop talking about rape (unlike her former client Todd Akin, who infamously suggested women don’t get pregnant from rape because their bodies “shut the whole thing down.) She also encouraged women to embrace femininity -- and not feminism -- in 2011.
She likens handling Trump to parenting.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Conway described getting Trump to do things the way she gets her daughter to do things: by offering up a series a handful of preferred options and letting Trump – or her daughter – choose which they prefer.
When her daughter donned turquoise on Memorial Day, Conway asked her to change into blue – meaning Betsy Ross’ American flag blue – to which her daughter protested, arguing that turquoise is blue.
“And it is. But it wasn’t a shade available to Betsy Ross when she stayed up through the night sewing the damn flag,” Conway told the Post, explaining how she laid out four Ross-blue options out on her bead. “Minutes later… she came out in one of those shades.”
She’s made a career helping Republican handle Trump’s biggest problem.
Conway gets Republican women, and Trump desperately needs their votes if he hopes to win in November. It won't be easy -- seven in ten women had an unfavorable view of the Republican nominee in April -- but since being hired in July as a senior adviser, Conway has been pushing the narrative that Trump can win more women voters.
“There’s no question” Trump would be better for women than Clinton, she told TIME magazine recently. Clinton “runs around saying, ‘I’ll be the first female president.’ Why isn’t she at 70 percent amongst women? She’s nowhere near there and you know why? It’s because women say, ‘You share my gender, that’s really fascinating, that’s kind of cool, but do you share my vision, do you share my values?’”
She’s also reportedly been encouraging Trump to be more compassionate, something that can be seen in his unity-focused response to the Dallas shooting. “This isn’t the American Dream we all want for our children,” he said after the Dallas shooting. “This is a time, perhaps more than ever, for strong leadership, love and compassion.”