TETERBORO, N.J. (AP) — Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who has slipped in the polls in recent weeks, has shaken up his campaign again.
The billionaire real estate mogul is bringing in Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News as chief executive officer and promoting pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager.
“I’ve known both of them for a long time. They’re terrific people, they’re winners, they’re champs, and we need to win it,” Trump told The Associated Press in a phone interview early Wednesday.
In confirming the campaign overhaul, Trump called Bannon and Conway “big people” who can help him defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in November.
Campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who formally took over the reins following the departure of Corey Lewandowski in June, will maintain his current title, Trump said.
Manafort deputy Rick Gates, who has been traveling often with Trump, is expected to maintain a senior role with the campaign.
The news, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, comes as opinion surveys show Trump trailing Clinton nationally and in a host of key battleground states following a difficult campaign stretch that saw him insulting the Muslim parents of a soldier who died in Iraq and temporarily refraining from endorsing House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was involved in a primary in his home state of Wisconsin.
In tapping Bannon for a top campaign role, Trump is doubling down on his outsider appeal rather than appeasing more traditional Republicans. The conservative Breitbart figure has been a cheerleader for Trump’s campaign for months and was critical of Republican leaders, including Ryan. Bannon is a former Goldman Sachs banker but does not bring presidential campaign experience to Trump’s White House bid.
Conway joined Trump’s campaign earlier this year as a senior adviser. A longtime Republican strategist and pollster, she has close ties to Trump’s running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
Trump long has resisted pleas from fellow Republicans to overhaul the flame-throwing approach on the campaign trail that powered his surge to the top of the GOP field in the primary season. Instead of working to broaden his appeal, Trump has largely hewed to the large rallies and attention-grabbing comments that appealed to the Republican Party base.
“You know, I am who I am,” he told a local Wisconsin television station Tuesday. “It’s me. I don’t want to change. Everyone talks about, ‘Oh, well you’re going to pivot, you’re going to.’ I don’t want to pivot. I mean, you have to be you. If you start pivoting, you’re not being honest with people.”
Conway called the moves “an expansion at a critical time in the homestretch.”
Details of the new pecking order were hashed out at a lengthy senior staff meeting at Trump Tower Tuesday while Trump was on the road. Additional senior hires are expected in the next few days.
Trump, whose campaign is built on his persona as a winner, said several times Wednesday that the campaign was “doing well,” and said his speech hours earlier in Wisconsin Tuesday was well-received.
“We’re going to be doing something very dramatic,” Trump added.
Trump’s campaign announced earlier that it would finally begin airing its first ads of the general election next week in Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
While polls have shown Clinton building a lead following the Philadelphia convention, Democrats are fearful that a depressed voter turnout might diminish support among the minority, young and female voters who powered Obama to two victories.
Clinton said at a voter registration event at a Philadelphia high school that she’s “not taking anybody anywhere for granted” in the race for the White House, saying the stakes “could not be higher.”
In the Wisconsin outing Tuesday, Trump accused Clinton of “bigotry” and being “against the police,” claiming that she and other Democrats have “betrayed the African American community” and pandered for votes.
“We reject the bigotry of Hillary Clinton, which panders to and talks down to communities of color and sees them only as votes — that’s all they care about,” the GOP nominee said in remarks delivered not far from Milwaukee — the latest city to be rocked by violence in the wake of a police shooting.
Trump has been lagging in the polls since he was crowned the GOP standard-bearer in Cleveland last month. He charged that Clinton has been on the side of the rioters in Milwaukee, declaring: “Our opponent Hillary would rather protect the offender than the victim.”
“The riots and destruction that have taken place in Milwaukee is an assault on the right of all citizens to live in security and to live in peace,” he said.
Clinton campaign spokeswoman Jennifer Palmieri responded with a statement early Wednesday accusing Trump of being the bigot instead.
“With each passing Trump attack, it becomes clearer that his strategy is just to say about Hillary Clinton what’s true of himself. When people started saying he was temperamentally unfit, he called Hillary the same. When his ties to the Kremlin came under scrutiny, he absurdly claimed that Hillary was the one who was too close to Putin. Now he’s accusing her of bigoted remarks — We think the American people will know which candidate is guilty of the charge,” she said.