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The Week That Was: Does Manafort's Resignation Mean A Trump Campaign Reboot?


Election Day is 79 days away, and Donald Trump spent today campaigning in Virginia, which is traditionally considered a battleground state. Ideally, this would be a time for a few final tweaks before the homestretch, but in Donald Trump's campaign this week, there was a major shake-up. Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman, resigned yesterday, and a new team of top advisers is already trying to change their candidate's image and messaging.

Robert Costa joins us in studio. He's been covering the story for The Washington Post. Thanks for coming in.

ROBERT COSTA: Great to join you.

CHIDEYA: So what's going on with Paul Manafort? There were stories about his work with the former president of the Ukraine, and the FBI has opened an investigation - sounds spicy.

COSTA: Manafort's a longtime Republican operative, going back to his days at the side of President Gerald Ford in the 1976 campaign, and he was installed as campaign manager about two months ago to try to professionalize a struggling Trump operation, to make it more like a traditional GOP campaign.

But he was besieged in recent weeks, especially by this controversy regarding his lobbying firm's work for pro-Russian forces in the Ukraine, and scrutiny of those endeavors has really hurt him politically. And Trump grew agitated himself, based in my reporting, about those stories, but, also, it was a temperamental difference with Trump. Manafort is of the same generation, but he wanted to move in a more disciplined direction. Trump wanted to be, well, more Trump.

CHIDEYA: Well, I remember seeing a tweet from Corey Lewandowski basically gloating over Manafort's issues with the Ukraine information coming out. And Corey Lewandowski was ousted after Manafort came in, so now we've got pollster adviser Kellyanne Conway in, Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News. What, if anything, does this new shift change, this second shift change, do for the Trump campaign?

COSTA: Well, the shift itself is so telling because Trump is a first-time national candidate trying to navigate what is already a tumultuous general election campaign and figuring out, what does he actually need to do to transition from the Republican primary to these last 80 days of the campaign? He got rid of Lewandowski, brought in Manafort, now he's bringing in Bannon and Conway. It shows you a candidate who's uncomfortable in some ways with what exactly needs to be done, a candidate who runs on his gut instinct.

But the people at his side now are important to note because Steve Bannon comes out of this populist, nationalist wing of the conservative right. Breitbart News has been very much a strong advocate against illegal immigration, against trade pacts. And so he and Trump overlap when it comes to politics. Bannon's also someone who's gone aggressively against Secretary Clinton. He was behind that "Clinton Cash" project regarding the Clinton Foundation, so he brings some hard-edged pugilistic tactics to the Trump campaign.

At the same time, Kellyanne Conway, the veteran Republican pollster - she brings a different kind of personality to Trump's inner circle. She's going to be riding the plane with him, which is an important place in Trump's orbit, to be right next to him with advice. And she's someone who told Trump, you have to express regret. You have to get beyond some of these issues and controversies to reassure skittish voters in the suburbs of North Carolina and Pennsylvania and Ohio that you can engage with them on a human level before you talk to them about politics.

CHIDEYA: Where does he have to take the campaign from here to make this race competitive in November?

COSTA: He's going to have to do well in these four or five swing states, where he has been struggling in the polls, sometimes by five to 10-percent margins. And a place like Pennsylvania is a classic example of where Trump has to rouse the working class, mostly white vote in the center part of the state, the rural areas, have historic margins among men, among conservative voters, and then he has to still do well in those suburbs around Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Trump is making a gamble, a big bet that if he's just out there all the time representing change - and sometimes change in a way with a sharp elbow and with rhetoric that's white-hot - then maybe he has a shot.

CHIDEYA: Robert Costa of The Washington Post, thanks so much for joining us.

COSTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.