(CN) – His presidential campaign continuing to reel from a series of self-inflicted wounds, Donald Trump on Wednesday shook up his staff for the second time since the primaries ended, hiring the executive chairman of the conservative Breitbart News, and promoting a senior advisor to a new, critical role.
The moves are a blow to Paul Manafort, who will remain Trump’s campaign chairman, but see his authority and influence greatly reduced.
An email sent out by the campaign at 5:38 a.m. Wednesday morning said Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon will take over as the campaign’s chief executive, while advisor Kellyane Conway, will become campaign manager.
Also joining the campaign on an unofficial basis, and therefore left out of the press release, is disgraced former Fox News chairman Roger Ailes, who is advising Trump on how to approach the upcoming presidential debates.
Insiders say the changes came after Trump decided to embrace his abrasive style, rejecting advice that he “pivot” or tone down his shoot-from-the-hip rhetoric in a bid to broaden his potential appeal to the undecided voters who will decide this year’s presidential contest.
Conway, however, rejected assertions that the moves were a shake-up, telling The Wall Street Journal the moves were “an expansion at a busy time in the final stretch of the campaign.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani also sought to minimize the changes, telling Fox News Wednesday morning that while “staff is important, what’s most important is the candidate, and Donald Trump has had a very strong two days, delivering substantive speeches that I would say are the most historic speeches we’ve heard from a presidential candidate in quite some time.”
In a statement, Trump himself said “I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win.”
“I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again,” he continued. “I am committed to doing whatever it takes to win this election, and ultimately become President because our country cannot afford four more years of the failed Obama-Clinton policies which have endangered our financial and physical security.”
Earlier this week, Trump gave a speech on terrorism in Ohio, and last night delivered an address on law and order in Wisconsin. However, as in the past, Trump on Wednesday appeared to have stepped on the story he wanted to get out, with news of the major campaign moves pushing both policy statements from the front page.
Manafort joined the Trump campaign last spring, as the candidate prepared for a much-anticipated floor fight for the nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. When Trump secured the delegates he needed to secure the nomination outright before the primaries ended, Manafort and then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski reportedly clashed repeatedly behind the scenes.
Lewandowski, combative by nature, had become a magnet for controversy by that point, one the low points in the campaign being when he was accused of roughing up a female Breitbart reporter. In June Lewandowski was fired at the urging of Trump’s adult children.
Manafort quickly solidified his power, but in recent days he’s come under increasing scrutiny over his ties to Ukraine as an international political consultant and allegations, first reported in The New York Times, that he received $12.7 million in previously undisclosed payments from a pro-Russian political party.
The unwanted headlines about Manafort came on the heels of a series of well-publicized gaffs by Trump, including but not limited to his asking Russian hackers to find Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s missing emails; his feud with the family of a Muslim-American soldier killed in Iraq; his apparent suggestion that “Second Amendment people” might find a way to keep Clinton from appointing Liberal justices to the Supreme Court, and his claim that President Barack Obama was the founder of the Islamic State terrorist group.
Trump dismissed the criticism he received in each instance, claiming in two of the four cases that he was merely being sarcastic, and in every instance, victimized by an “unfair” and “rigged” media.
The changes in the campaign’s makeup were first seriously discussed on Sunday during a staff meeting at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
Bannon joined the Trump team with no prior experience in political campaigns, but he’s considered every bit as combative as Corey Lewandowski was, and committed to ensuring Clinton is not the next president.
Conway is far more seasoned in campaigning, but has never held such critical position in a national presidential campaign.
As for Ailes, who attended the campaign meeting on Sunday, his first task will be helping Trump prepare for the first debate with Hillary Clinton, scheduled for Sept. 26 at Hofstra University on Long Island.
Speculation is that Ailes, under a cloud of sexual harassment allegations first leveled against him in a lawsuit filed by former Fox News presenter Gretchen Carlson, and now repeated by other women at the network, may play other roles in the campaign, but all on an “unofficial” or advisory basis.
Ailes resigned from Fox News on July 21 amid an internal investigation into the sexual harassment allegations.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks over the crowd during his campaign rally Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016 in West Bend, Wis. (John Ehlke/West Bend Daily News via AP)
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