Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has moved to overhaul his struggling campaign by appointing a conservative website executive and a pollster to head his team amid sinking poll numbers.
Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of the influential Breitbart News site, will serve as the campaign’s chief executive, the Trump campaign said in a statement on Wednesday.
Trump’s veteran political strategist Kellyanne Conway, a longtime Republican pollster, will become campaign manager.
The shakeup comes as opinion polls show Trump, a wealthy New York businessman who has never held elected office, falling behind Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the race for the Nov. 8 election.
The moves were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman who in recent days has come under scrutiny for his links to the pro-Russia former president of Ukraine, will remain in his current role, the reports said.
“I want to win,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday night after disclosing the staffing changes. “That’s why I’m bringing on fantastic people who know how to win and love to win.”
Conway confirmed the moves to The New York Times, but denied they constituted a shake-up.
“It’s an expansion at a busy time in the final stretch of the campaign,” she told the newspaper.
“We met as the ‘core four’ today,” she was quoted as saying, referring to herself, Bannon, Manafort and Manafort’s deputy Rick Gates.
Trump’s denigration of the family of a fallen Muslim-American soldier was seen by many as a monumental campaign misstep and a turning point in the contentious 2016 presidential race.
According to a NBC News/Survey Monkey poll released Tuesday, Clinton holds a six-point lead over Trump, 43 percent to his 37 percent, with two minor party candidates securing a combined 15 percent.
“I actually think I’m going good, I have the biggest crowds,” Trump told Fox on Tuesday, in light of the sinking poll numbers. “Nobody’s ever had crowds like this.”
But Trump may be buying into the hype. Crowd size is frequently not a good indicator of success on Election Day — and some Republicans attribute Trump’s refusal to alter his message for the general election to his insistence on measuring success by the adulation he receives from audiences he’s already won over. In a general election, candidates typically broaden their message to reach the people not in the event halls, who have yet to be convinced.
“Campaigns that rely too much on anecdotal evidence like crowd sizes when looking to measure progress are easily lulled into a false sense of security,” said Kevin Madden, a senior adviser on Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign. “They assume, often wrongly, that the echo effect of being surrounded by big crowds of already converted voters is automatically translating into momentum.”
Boisterous, often full-house rallies have long been the lynchpin of Trump’s campaign, and the Republican nominee took to Twitter in recent days to complain that the media were not giving them the credit they deserve.
“My rallies are not covered properly by the media. They never discuss the real message and never show crowd size or enthusiasm,” Trump posted Sunday.
Madden, who does not support Trump, recalls that in the closing days of the campaign four years ago, Romney drew massive crowds on each side of Pennsylvania, one outside Philadelphia and one in Pittsburgh on Election Day.
“Based on crowd size, you’d have thought we had a good chance to win the state, but we ended up losing by about five points,” Madden said. “The crowd sizes were there, but the data and the empirical evidence never really were.”