Alice Stewart: Trump has the Breitbart vote. It's time to broaden his appeal
Donald Trump said that he accepted Friday the resignation of his campaign chairman
Editor’s Note: Alice Stewart is a CNN Political Commentator and former Communications Director for Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. She has worked in communications for the presidential campaigns of Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann, as well as communications for Concerned Women for America. The views expressed are her own.
The resignation of Donald Trump’s outspoken campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, is just the latest in a series of high-profile moves by Team Trump this week.
“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 of Manafort’s decision.
But after a series of negative headlines, and with his poll numbers flagging, the Trump campaign clearly needed a fresh strategy – and a different tone. The question is whether the new additions, including conservative news website Breitbart chairman Steve Bannon in the role of CEO and veteran conservative pollster Kellyanne Conway as campaign manager, will do the trick.
Judging by the tone and tenor of the last 48 hours, at least, Conway appears to be making an impact – and Bannon’s aggressive style seems for now to be taking a back seat.
Conway is the first female campaign manager of a Republican presidential nominee yet she stands out not because of her gender, but because she’s a gifted political operative. (Disclosure: I know and have worked with Conway in the past).
In picking her to manage his campaign, Trump noted that Conway “loves to win and knows how to win.” That’s true – and Conway certainly personifies Margaret Thatcher’s credo, “If you want something said, ask a man, if you want something done, ask a woman.” But it’s hard not to wonder whether Conway can be Conway while Trump is being Trump.
As for Bannon, it’s no secret that he and Breitbart had their finger on the scales for Trump from the moment Trump rode down the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his candidacy last June.
Bannon’s street fighter tactics have led many to believe that Trump may return to his attack style of politics that won him the primary. The problem is that the primaries are over and the electorate in the general is much different. Trump has the Breitbart vote; that hay is in the barn. It’s time to broaden his appeal to the general election electorate.
This is where Conway becomes a vital part of a successful pivot. Acknowledging Trump is behind in the polls, Conway told CNN that this “lights a fire” under those in the campaign. The goal now is to make up ground focusing on who to attack and who to attract. In practice, that means attacking Hillary Clinton and attracting independents, women, millennials and minorities.
Based on Thursday’s speech in Charlotte, North Carolina, Trump is taking steps to do just that. The tone of the speech was much more conciliatory, underscoring a new focus on reaching out to independents and women, and Trump even offered some words of regret for his harsh campaign rhetoric. “Sometimes, in the heat of debate and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don’t choose the right words or you say the wrong thing,” he said. “I have done that, and I regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain.”
The speech also included countless attacks on Clinton, such as her support for Obamacare and major trade deals, the growth of ISIS under the Obama-Clinton administration, her failure in Benghazi, and his charge that she turned the State Department into a pay-for-play operation.
This dual approach is going to be essential if Trump is going to recover among women voters after numerous demeaning comments, including remarks about Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, Ted Cruz’s wife Heidi Cruz and former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.
Judging by recent elections, he already had an uphill battle as the Republican candidate.
In 2012, President Barack Obama beat Mitt Romney with women voters by 55% to 44%. In 2008, President Obama beat John McCain 56% to 43%. And right now, Clinton is far ahead of Trump, leading 58% to 35% with women voters.
But Conway, a mother of four small children, has made a name for herself helping candidates win over women voters – she can help Trump bridge the gender gap, especially if Trump can continue with the kind of more disciplined policy speeches like we saw in Charlotte. These are important to show voters that Trump has the temperament of a disciplined presidential candidate. (Although he clearly likes being told to read off a teleprompter about as much as a kid likes to be told to eat beets at a pizza buffet).
As Donald Trump delivered his noteworthy immigration speech in Arizona on Wednesday, it became increasingly clear that the success or otherwise of his signature campaign issue rests on his ability to apply a central tenet of his book “The Art of the Deal”: Maximize your options.