Manafort Resigns as Head of Trump Campaign
Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned on Friday, just days after the Republican presidential nominee instituted major staff changes that were originally billed as an expansion, not a shake-up, of the team.
Manafort’s exit comes amid a tumultuous month for Trump, one marked by more self-inflicted controversy and a sharp decline in national and battleground state polls. Manafort had also become an additional distraction for the campaign, with reports surfacing this week of his secret lobbying in Washington on behalf of pro-Russian officials in Ukraine, and the failure of Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, to disclose their representation of foreign entities -- a federal offense. (The campaign said that Gates will not leave, but going forward will serve as the campaign's liaison to the Republican National Committee.)
“This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign. I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process,” Trump said in a statement Friday. “Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success.”
The departure of the chairman marks the third major change in campaign leadership in the span of two months, and the latest course correction just 80 days before Election Day raises more questions about management, a key selling point of the businessman candidate. The campaign argues that the new leadership is designed to create a comfortable and effective environment for Trump to pull through in the final stretch. Manafort was seen as a hindrance in that effort.
“I think my father didn’t want to be, you know, distracted by, you know, whatever things Paul was dealing with,” son Eric Trump told Fox News Channel, noting the Manafort controversy threatened to overshadow troubles that Hillary Clinton is facing. “He helped us get through the primary process, he helped us get through the convention, he did a great job with the delegates and, you know, now you look at Kellyanne and some of the other people that we’re bringing in and they’re absolutely fantastic, and I think they’re going to be the ones that bring us all the way through November 8th and ultimately get us the victory."
Manafort joined the campaign during the Republican primaries to manage Trump’s delegate operation. His inclusion was seen as an overture of sorts to establishment figures and GOP tradition, as Manafort had directed Bob Dole’s convention and strategy in 1996 and was seen as a party veteran. He was elevated in late June after the ouster of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, with whom Manafort clashed over the unconventional candidate’s strategy and message.
But by Friday it was clear that Manafort found himself an outsider in the campaign he was overseeing. Trump’s hiring this week of Stephen Bannon as chief executive and his promotion of Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager was seen as a rejection of the Manafort approach to the general election. With Manafort out, Trump has transitioned back to his original, Lewandowski-endorsed strategy of being himself.
At a rally in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday night, Trump attempted a fresh start by expressing “regret” for comments and statements that “may have caused personal pain.” But he also explained his rejection of tradition.
“As you know, I am not a politician. I have worked in business, creating jobs and rebuilding neighborhoods my entire adult life. I’ve never wanted to use the language of the insiders, and I’ve never been politically correct – it takes far too much time, and can often make [matters] more difficult,” he said.
The speech was viewed as a possible turning point in the campaign, though Democrats and other detractors criticized the words as disingenuous. It also came as the campaign launched its first ad buys in four battleground states. The spots, though, seem designed to rally the Republican base rather than make overtures to other constituencies, as they focus on immigration and refugee policy.
Trump and running mate Mike Pence arrived in Baton Rouge, La., on Friday morning to tour the flood devastation. President Obama has been criticized for declining to visit while on vacation. Wearing a white “Make America Great Again” hat and a suit coat, Trump helped unload supplies from a truck, visited a church, and met with residents. The GOP nominee heads to Michigan Friday evening for a rally, and to Virginia on Saturday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously said Eric Trump spoke with Fox Business Channel. His comments were aired Friday to preview an interview that will appear on Fox News Channel's "Sunday Morning Futures."