Trump’s new campaign manager challenges Clinton on policy

BY DANIEL BUSH

Donald Trump's new campaign manager held meetings on Wednesday with a group of senior advisors in New York as the campaign sought to move forward after the second staff shakeup in the past two months.

Kellyanne Conway, who was promoted to the role of campaign manager earlier in the day, said in an interview with PBS NewsHour that she met with the campaign's chairman, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, a senior advisor, and Steve Bannon, the campaign's newly appointed CEO.

"We met on any number of issues," said Conway, who called the group the campaign's "core four" leadership team.

"What's very important is that the candidate trust the people around him."

Conway said the group reviewed new advertisements the campaign plans to launch this weekend, and discussed foreign policy with a team of national security experts.

"We're all working together. This is an expansion of a team in these critical last couple of weeks," Conway told PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff.

Conway, who was serving as a senior advisor to Trump, defended the campaign's decision to hire Bannon, the executive chairman of the conservative media outlet Breitbart News.

"What's very important is that the candidate trust the people around him," Conway said.

The announcement of Conway and Bannon's new roles represented the Trump campaign's latest major staff change. Trump fired his campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in June, and handed control of the campaign to Manafort.

Manafort's presence at the high-level meetings on Wednesday suggested that he will remain an active voice on the campaign throughout the general election.

READ MORE: Steve Bannon's path to the top of the Trump campaign

Wednesday's staff change comes as Trump continues to lose ground to Hillary Clinton in national polls and polls in several key battleground states.

Conway acknowledged the challenges Trump faces, but said she believes the campaign still has time to build more support among Republicans and independents, as well as Democrats who are seeking an alternative to Clinton.

"We feel like they are open to our message. And we're going to work hard for all of those votes," Conway said.


Read the full transcript of this segment below:

JUDY WOODRUFF: We return now to the changes at the top of the Trump campaign and what led to all this, with Robert Costa, national political reporter for The Washington Post.

Robert, welcome back to the program.

So, it was just two months ago we saw a change at the top of the Trump campaign. So, what happened?

ROBERT COSTA, The Washington Post: That change two months ago saw Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman, take control of the Trump campaign from Corey Lewandowski, the longtime campaign manager.

And it was a change of philosophy back then, from "let Trump be Trump" to a more disciplined strategy, more party unity, more focus on a scripted message. Trump has scrapped that Manafort playbook, however, over the weekend, deciding to go with this new team, Steve Bannon from Breitbart, Kellyanne Conway, the longtime pollster who he is friendly with.

And it's because Trump, according to my sources, is looking at these last 80 days, and he says to himself, he wants to do it his way, run from the gut, run on his instincts.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, tell us about Stephen Bannon. Who is he? He is not somebody we have known associated with the campaign, although we know he's been close to Mr. Trump.

ROBERT COSTA: He's a colorful and populist figure on the American right, someone who's not closely associated with the Republican Party, hasn't run a presidential campaign before, has rarely, if ever, been involved with political campaigns.

But he has been running this Web site Breitbart News, which is popular for its nationalist themes, its advocacy against illegal immigration. He has become close to figures like Sarah Palin over the past decade. And this profile on a certain segment of the American right has brought him close to Trump. His politics overlap with Trump's own.

And he has been someone who has provided Trump with informal candid advice over the past year. And Trump has developed this rapport and has turned to Bannon at many turns as he's thought about his campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Robert, what do your sources tell you we should expect to see change in Trump's behavior on the campaign trail and the campaign itself?

ROBERT COSTA: Bannon's strategy, according to people close to both Trump and Bannon, is to run a less partisan campaign than Paul Manafort may have advised for Trump in recent days.

And what I mean by that is a populist campaign that doesn't stress political issues in the traditional way you see in a general election campaign of right vs. left. What we should expect to see from Trump, according to the people who were in meetings with him today, is a full-throated nationalist message, something that is based on rallies, media appearances, and trying to rouse those voters, working-class voters in swing states.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what is meant by nationalist message?

ROBERT COSTA: It is something that is based in Trump's pitch about immigration and trade and the economic frustration that Trump believes is out there in much of the American — much of the country.

And it is a sense that jobs should stay here, products should be made here, foreign policy should be crafted from an almost isolationist perspective, America first, as Trump often says.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Robert, the people you talk to inside the campaign, do they still believe they can win this? I mean, we know the polls have been difficult in the last month for Mr. Trump.

ROBERT COSTA: They believe there is a difficult path ahead, but they look at two things.

They think suburban voters in places like North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania remain intrigued by Trump, interested in perhaps switching over to Trump in the final stretch, even if they are skittish at Trump at the moment and moving toward Clinton in the polls.

If Trump can change his message to really zero in on those voters by focusing on national security, populism and nationalism, the Trump campaign thinks they have a shot. The other thing they are going to try to win over is more women voters.

And that is where Kellyanne Conway comes in. She spent her whole career trying to help Republicans appeal more to the female voter. And that's going to be part of the equation moving ahead.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And finally, Robert, do they lead you to believe this is the last change we will see in the campaign?

ROBERT COSTA: You never know with Donald Trump. He kept this decision close to his vest over the weekend, didn't tell many party leaders, if any, that he was going to make this overhaul in his campaign.

He is someone who runs a small operation compared to most presidential campaigns. And he is someone who is a lone loner in American politics, almost an isolated figure, who believes his own calls on political issues, on strategy matter more than any kind of consultant's advice.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Costa with The Washington Post, we thank you.

ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And now let's get an inside view of today's changes in the Trump campaign from the woman we have just been hearing about. She's the new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway.

Kellyanne, hello. It's good to see you.

We just heard Robert Costa say this has to do in part with Donald Trump, frankly, wanting less discipline, wanting to be himself on the campaign trail. Is that what is going on?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, Trump Campaign Manager: Well, first of all, Judy, thank you for having me. And I appreciate your congratulations.

So, everybody is always talking about the Donald Trump pivot. Pivot is style when they give him advice. It's, don't say this, don't say that, you should do this, you shouldn't do that.

And I think when he says, you know, he gets tired of being told by different people inside and outside of what to do and how to speak, it doesn't free him to talk about the issues, which is where he really wants to take this campaign.

I think the discipline you have seen this week is in giving those speeches, on Monday about radical Islamic terrorism, where, whether people liked the speech and the solutions or not, at least they can look at them. They can look at the road map. They can look at the several-point plan and decide whether or not that is the commander in chief they would like to trust.

Yesterday, he followed it up with a very unusual, very robust policy speech, really taking the case to Hillary Clinton and putting her on the hot seat to explain why, after decades of public service herself, while she has been a politician for decades, and why in all of our big cities, we have Democratic mayors, and we have a rise in poverty and crime and homelessness, a rise in unemployment.

So, I think he's taking the case right back to Hillary Clinton, which is really his best shot at winning the presidency.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And what we just heard from Robert Costa — and it's been reported — the other new person — or the new person elevated, I should say, in the campaign is Stephen Bannon, who does come from Breitbart News.

And why would Donald Trump turn to him? He is someone who has never run a campaign before. He has been associated with this pretty controversial news Web site. What does Mr. Bannon bring?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Donald Trump said it best, Judy, where he said: I know them well, and I want people who want to win and who believe I can win and who are warriors.

And I think Bannon is a guy ready for the right kind of battle, realizing that this is a pretty simple choice. You either want Donald Trump's view of free market health care, where it is portable and is affordable and is accessible to more people, or you want more of Aetna pulling out of 11 to 15 states just yesterday, announcing $430 million worth of losses over the last two years.

That followed UnitedHealthcare saying it would suffer a billion dollars in losses by being on the exchange. These are serious issues that impact people.

And to Bob Costa and to your point, Judy, women are the chief health care officers of their households. These health care exchange realities on Obamacare are very real to them, as the chief health care officers. And we would like to know if Mrs. Clinton owns Obamacare, in other words, if she feels like it is a good policy moving forward. Would she move us towards a single-payer system, a la Bernie Sanders?

Are there pieces of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, that she would scrap or the ones that she thinks are worth keeping? We need those questions answered. When you pivot, the pivot really needs to be on substance, when you start talking about issues, and not just individuals, when you start talking about principles, and not just personalities. Then we're having a conversation befitting of the voters.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let's try to understand what this is, because, again, we just heard Robert Costa describe an approach that is going to try to be not so partisan, not so — quote, unquote — "Republican vs. Democratic."

But we know that the Breitbart News Web site is what they call — it's been called alt-right, a movement of hard-right ideologues and white nationalists who scorn traditional conservatism.

Is that the philosophy Mr. Trump is embracing?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No, it's not. And that's, I guess, someone's opinion or characterization of a Web site or stories on a Web site.

But, at the same time, I would like to point out, because I think too much of the reporting has said that this is a reset, this is a shakeup. The fact is, just over there in Trump Tower today, the core four, Manafort and Gates, who have been for on for a while, Bannon and myself, we met on any number of issues.

We reviewed the last cuts of our ads that are going up this weekend. We sat in, all four of us sat in on the roundtable with national security and terrorism and foreign policy experts. I believe you showed some footage from there.

So, we are all working together. This is an expansion of a team in these critical last couple of weeks. And I think what is very important is that the candidate trusts the people around them. And you see who is there.

Despite what Hillary Clinton said today — that was a complete lie. Nobody got fired at the Trump campaign today. Nobody is feeding him — I found that to be really unbecoming, to talk about Donald Trump reading new words off a teleprompter.

I mean, this has to go both ways, where she is pretty insulting of him. And I appreciate that it's actually getting covered here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask you a little bit more, Kellyanne Conway, though, about where you do stand in the polls. You are a pollster. You have made it your career.

How do you read the polls? I mean, Donald Trump right now is running behind in virtually every single battleground state.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Well, he is, but with varying margins.

And, Judy, we're happy that it is August and not October or November. We recognize that there is work to do. And some of that work is among independent voters. Some is among Republicans. And some is among the work to be done among Democrats who, in the same polls, say that they just don't trust or much like Hillary Clinton.

So, we feel like they are open to our message. And we are going to work hard for all those votes. That is what campaigns are for. Campaigns are really for combining the message, the messenger, the delivery, the opportunities, the ground game, the data operation, all of which is really coming into place. And I have to credit Manafort and Gates for putting so much of that together before we arrived.

Secondly, if you look at the horse race numbers in these statewide polls, Judy, they look really great for Hillary Clinton. But if you go just a little bit underneath, you see that many of her fundamental measurements are still very poor.

You have — in the Virginia poll, for example, you have 54 percent of Virginians saying they are unfavorable towards Hillary Clinton. There is not a lot that she can do to change that image, because they already know her; 68 percent said that the selection of Tim Kaine doesn't matter to their vote; 66 percent of the white voters there say that they are unfavorable towards her.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly, let me…

KELLYANNE CONWAY: So, she really needs to work on those as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: I just want to squeeze in one last question.

And that is the description of the philosophy of this campaign as nationalist, almost isolationist, is that something you accept?

KELLYANNE CONWAY: No.

I — in fact, I emphatically reject it. And, as I said, Judy, just hours ago, I sat in a roundtable with former and current congressmen, with generals, with elected officials at very high levels, with national security and foreign policy experts. And that wasn't the talk around the — that wasn't the conversation around the table, I assure you. We allowed the press in.

And so, no, I reject it. But I'm not surprised critics and naysayers have to do that.

Look, the only thing I would ask of the Clinton campaign and many of their sympathizers is, when you are asked a question about Hillary Clinton, try not to say Donald Trump every other word. That is where criticisms like that come from.

I think people — if you have a real debate on the issues, you go back and look at the radical Islamic speech from Monday, you go back and look at the law and order speech and the minority community speech yesterday, you find that that characterization is patently false.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, I think I was hearing Robert Costa quote people he was talking to from inside the campaign, but we can straighten that out later.

Kellyanne Conway, again, the newly named campaign manager for Donald Trump, thank you very much.

KELLYANNE CONWAY: Thank you, Judy.

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