Report: Trump campaign shake-up may accelerate GOP's shift from presidential race to downballot

Harwood’s source is anonymous and he skews left himself, but it seems so obvious that this would be fallout from bringing Steve Bannon in that it’s hard to doubt the claim. No conservative media outlet spent more time over the past four months championing Paul Nehlen’s challenge to Paul Ryan than Breitbart did. No outlet has devoted more pixels to dismissing the GOP leadership in Congress and its friends in the donor class as sellouts than Bannon’s site has. Bringing him aboard is a de facto middle finger from Trump to “professional Republicans” like Reince and company. And because Bannon has no experience managing a national campaign, it’ll also be seen by GOP pros as a de facto surrender, proof that Trump is giving up on the race for all intents and purposes. Paul Manafort knew Trump had a deep problem with voters perceiving him as unfit for office, especially in terms of temperament and qualifications. His solution was to try to get Trump to shift to a more scripted, traditional approach. Demoting Manafort and bringing in the populist brawler Bannon is as clear a signal as Trump could send that he meant what he said yesterday: There’s not going to be a “pivot.” If anything, he’s going to go full metal Trump now. If voters decide that that makes him unqualified to be president, at least he’ll go down having done things his way.

So if you’re Reince Priebus or one of his inner circle, the time has come to make a hard decision.

You’ve got a million dollars earmarked for the presidential race. You want to pour that into ads for a Bannon-fied Trump or you want to hand it to Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania instead? More background from Robert Costa at WaPo:

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…

Bannon, in phone calls and meetings, has been urging Trump for months to not mount a fall campaign that makes Republican donors and officials comfortable, the aides said. Instead, Bannon has been telling Trump to run more fully as an outsider and an unabashed nationalist.

Trump has listened intently to Bannon and agreed with him, believing that voters will ultimately want a presidential candidate who represents disruption more than a candidate with polished appeal, the aides said.

I don’t know how you look at Trump’s campaign, especially the problems he’s having in being seen as “presidential,” and decide that the solution is to ramp up the outsider-ism, but I suppose it depends on the form it takes. If Bannon can convince Trump to start pounding the table at every opportunity about outsourcing, that’ll help. Better that he rants about that than about the “Mexican” judge in his civil suit or why Mrs. Khan seemed unable to speak during her husband’s speech. Corey Lewandowki (who, Costa says, was whispering to Trump about bringing in Bannon and Kellyanne Conway) followed a “let Trump be Trump” approach in the primary. That didn’t work in the general, but it might work better if it’s tweaked to mean “let Trump be Bannon.” Bannon, at least, is on message for his ideology. That can only help Trump in the Rust Belt at this point, although probably not enough to win nationally. Nate Silver argued this morning that, realistically, Trump’s only going to get back in the race by chipping away at Clinton’s lead over the next three months, not by throwing the ball deep downfield and hoping for a gamechanger. What if, though, even Trump has concluded that he doesn’t have the discipline to campaign with strategic diligence towards a gradual comeback? At this point, down double digits in some swing states, he might as well go with his gut. Especially since he doesn’t care a whit if the race turns into a rout and congressional Republicans get wiped out.

An alternate theory of the Bannon hire I’m seeing this morning among Trump critics is that he’s already preparing for phase two of Trumpmania, the Trump News Network. Formalizing his relationship with Bannon would leave them well positioned to build a media venture together after the campaign; the newly unemployed Roger Ailes, who may or may not be informally advising Trump right now, would obviously be highly useful in that too. Two questions, though. Why would Trump need to bring Bannon onboard his campaign to make that happen? They were cozy to begin with. I’m sure Bannon would have strongly considered a position with Trump News regardless. Also, can Trump raise the money needed to build his own network? He’s getting outraised by Clinton in his bid to become the world’s most powerful man; starting a network would cost him bigger bucks than a winning presidential run would, in all likelihood. Where’s he getting that money, given the antipathy to him in corporate America now? If anything, a guy who’s eyeing a major corporate venture after the campaign has a financial incentive to follow Manafort’s approach, not Bannon’s, in trying to repair his image via a newly disciplined, mainstream campaign. The more of a loose cannon Trump becomes, the harder it’s going to be to scrape financing together later.

Here’s Costa discussing Trump’s decision to embrace his “outsider” image, which was apparently made … in the Hamptons. At a billionaire’s house, while consulting other rich people.