US Elections 2016

Trump campaign presses reset button - again

Mr Bannon's recruitment to be the Trump campaign's chief executive has been seen as a return to Mr Trump's message and posture of being outside the establishment. Ms Conway's elevation to campaign manager is said to be a move to provide Mr Trump with
Mr Bannon's recruitment to be the Trump campaign's chief executive has been seen as a return to Mr Trump's message and posture of being outside the establishment. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mr Bannon's recruitment to be the Trump campaign's chief executive has been seen as a return to Mr Trump's message and posture of being outside the establishment. Ms Conway's elevation to campaign manager is said to be a move to provide Mr Trump with
Ms Conway's elevation to campaign manager is said to be a move to provide Mr Trump with a seasoned hand and to keep him focused, something he has lacked.PHOTO: REUTERS

It still remains to be seen if the shake-up of campaign leaders will help him save his deteriorating position in the polls against Clinton

WASHINGTON • The latest shake-up in Mr Donald Trump's campaign is rightly described as a move to "let Trump be Trump."

In reality, the sudden changes highlight the fact that a politician whose instincts appeared so sure during the Republican primaries has lost his way as a presidential election candidate. It remains questionable whether he can find the equilibrium and the discipline needed to turn his flailing campaign around. That is likely what is behind the shifts that were formally announced in a release e-mailed by the Trump campaign at the unusual hour of 5.38am on Wednesday (5.38pm Singapore time), hours after the Wall Street Journal first reported the news.

Coming 82 days before the presidential election, the staff changes had the distinct bouquet of desperation rather than the kind of routine and orderly "expansion" that Mr Trump and his senior advisers were saying. Mr Trump has been in a downward spiral for weeks, a descent that has come with remarkable - and to Republican (GOP) leaders alarming - swiftness.

Mr Trump has been resistant to advice from so-called experts because he beat all of them during the primaries. But he began the election with a distinct lack of understanding of the differences between the primaries and the presidential election.

In the weeks since the Republican and Democratic conventions ended, his position has deteriorated dramatically, turning what was already a difficult path to victory against Mrs Hillary Clinton into one that now requires a dramatic change in fortunes to succeed. Perhaps the changes will produce such a turnaround.

The recruitment of former banker Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News to become chief executive signals a kind of go-for-broke return to Mr Trump's anti-establishment message and posture, but not without risk. The elevation of pollster Kellyanne Conway to the role of campaign manager will provide Mr Trump with what he has lacked for some time now, which is a seasoned hand who will travel with him on his plane and who can try to keep him focused.

Staff intrigue is catnip to political insiders, and there will be ongoing efforts to analyse how the changes announced on Wednesday will affect the inner dynamics of Mr Trump's operation. In particular, there are questions about the degree to which they diminish the role of Mr Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman who was brought in last spring and supplanted - and ultimately helped force out - previous campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.

Trump spokesman Jason Miller said in a telephone interview on Wednesday that the changes were already having a positive impact.

"Anecdotally," he said, "if you're watching cable news shows, you could make the case that this was the best morning for us in weeks."

Staff shake-ups, however, are no substitute for a candidate with a clear sense of himself, his message and what it takes to win the election in November. By almost every indication, Mr Trump has fallen short on all these measures. Blaming his staff does not absolve his own failures as the leader of his campaign. Letting Trump be Trump won't instantly solve the weaknesses he's demonstrated as a presidential election candidate.

For months, he has been pulled and tugged by campaign officials and party leaders. He has been offered advice from many directions. He's been urged to be more stable and presidential and urged to blast out his anti-establishment message with even greater intensity. He's been urged to use a teleprompter and offer more policy. He's been urged to let it rip at his rallies.

He's done some of all of these in recent weeks - as well as unscripted digressions that have overshadowed his better moments. As Labour Day nears, he is trailing nationally and in all the battleground states.

Mr Trump has been resistant to advice from so-called experts because he beat all of them during the primaries. But he began the election with a distinct lack of understanding of the differences between the primaries and the presidential election. He appeared not to understand the dynamics, the demographics or the geography of a winning presidential election campaign.

Mr Trump has shown little of the confidence he displayed earlier in the year. With the polls turning against him, he has little to brag about. With conflicting advice on what to say and how to act, he's appeared off-balance and unhappy.

Where he once dominated news cycles through his accessibility to the media, particularly all the cable channels, he's become far more a creature of Fox News than he was during the primaries. The changes announced on Wednesday amount to hitting a reset button for him and his campaign.

But he has tried this before. The question now is whether the newly-constituted team will find a way to build back his support or put him on a path that will simply harden the support he already has.

WASHINGTON POST

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2016, with the headline 'Trump campaign presses reset button - again'. Print Edition | Subscribe