Eleven weeks before the general election, with polls showing Donald Trump staring at a potential electoral rout, the New York businessman decisively ended speculation that he would "pivot" to end the race a more "presidential" candidate by naming Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart News, as the campaign's new chief executive.
The campaign overhaul means that Trump is choosing to end his campaign living in the alternate reality that Breitbart creates for him on a daily basis—where everything he does is the best, where everyone who questions him is an idiot or a traitor, where big rallies portend electoral victories, where House speaker Paul Ryan is the problem with modern conservatism, where polls that find him down are fixed, where elections he loses are rigged, where immigration and trade are the nation's most pressing issues, and where, truly, Trump alone can fix it all.
Breitbart is the only place that is more Trumpian than Trump. When others roll their eyes at Trump's campaign boasting and public self-reverence, Breitbart writers seem to believe he's being too modest. When Trump can't explain his own words, Breitbart faults the journalists who have asked the questions. (I speak from experience on this.)
Hiring Bannon allows Trump to seek external validation of what already exists in his own mind. It's Trump's way of channeling himself.
Trump, who has argued that he "has the best words" and that he knows "more about ISIS than the generals do," believes he doesn't need advisers to rein him in so much as to affirm his way of operating.
During an appearance on Morning Joe last spring, Trump was asked to name the people he consults for foreign policy advice, he said: "I'm speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I've said a lot of things."
While legions of people might dispute Trump's first claim, he's right about the second. He's said a lot of things.
"I know what I'm doing and I listen to a lot of people, I talk to a lot of people and at the appropriate time I'll tell you who the people are," Trump continued. "But my primary consultant is myself and I have a good instinct for this stuff."
The move is an effective demotion of Paul Manafort, who had served as Trump's top adviser since the spring. There were many reasons to sideline Manafort. The New York Times reported earlier this week that an investigation by Ukraine's new anti-corruption agency revealed secret ledgers listing "$12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments designated for Mr. Manafort" from Viktor Yanukovych's Kremlin-friendly political party. The Associated Press reported Wednesday morning similarly troubling financial dealings concerning Manafort. "Donald Trump's campaign chairman helped a pro-Russian governing party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2 million in payments to two prominent Washington lobbying firms in 2012, and did so in a way that effectively obscured the foreign political party's efforts to influence U.S. policy." These stories are just the latest in a long line of detailed reports raising concerns about Manafort's ties to Moscow and his willingness to use his influence with Trump to change U.S. policy in a Russia-friendly direction. Manafort has denied the allegations.
By all accounts, these were not the reasons Manafort was sidelined. Instead, Republicans with knowledge of the campaign have told journalists that Trump found Manafort, who has long served as a check on Trump's impulsive campaigning, too restrictive.
Here's the Washington Post:
Trump's stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump's presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clear than ever, that the real-estate mogul intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side. While Manafort, a seasoned operative who joined the campaign in March, will remain in his role, the advisers described his status internally as diminished due to Trump's unhappiness and restlessness in recent weeks. While Trump respects Manafort, the aides said, he has grown to feel "boxed in" and "controlled" by people who barely know him. Moving forward, he plans to focus intensely on rousing his voters at rallies and through media appearances.
The shakeup also elevated pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager. Conway is widely regarded as a capable numbers cruncher and someone who understands what motivates conservatives and women voters, in particular. But Trump dismissed campaign data as "overrated" and has indicated he won't spend much on it. Last week, Trump rejected traditional get-out-the-vote efforts. "I don't know that we need to get out the vote," he said on Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor. He added: "I think people that really want to vote, they're gonna just get up and they're going to get out and they're going to vote for Trump and we're going to make America great again."
Trump has expressed the same views in private to senior Republicans and movement conservatives who have urged him to get serious as the campaign heads into the closing weeks. Even in the unlikely event that Trump were to listen to whatever advice Conway provides, it's not clear how his dysfunctional campaign could implement it.
The changes are the latest, and perhaps the final, indication that Trump is not changing. For months, we've heard from Trump high-profile supporters—especially elected officials who offered Trump their reluctant, grudging support—the candidate was on the verge of a pivot. This was mostly wishful thinking, a kind of meek justification these folks offered for support they understood they shouldn't be providing. The first wave came as Trump started winning primaries and caucuses the second after Trump became the presumptive nominee and the third after he accepted the GOP nomination.
Trump isn't changing. Trump was never changing. As he tweeted three days before this most recent campaign overhaul: "I have always been the same person-remain true to self. The media wants me to change but it would be very dishonest to supporters to do so!"