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Friday, December 15, 2017

By Caren Bohan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump overhauled his troubled campaign on Wednesday, hiring the combative head of a conservative news website as chief executive officer and promoting a seasoned political operative to a senior role.

Stephen Bannon, executive chairman of Breitbart website, was named CEO, while Kellyanne Conway, who has been an adviser, will take on the role of campaign manager, the Trump campaign said.

The shake-up comes as Trump faces criticism from many Republicans over a series of controversial statements and opinion polls show him falling behind Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the race for the Nov. 8 election.

The selection of Bannon suggested that Trump is aiming not so much to tone down his aggressive style but to be more disciplined in emphasizing themes that resonate strongly with the voters he is trying to court, such as his stances on immigration and criticism of Clinton.

“You’ve got a candidate who wants to win. This is a clear indication of that. It’s win at all cost,” Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager, said on CNN.

Lewandowski, who was ousted in June as the unorthodox Trump campaign tried to adopt more presidential posture, likened Bannon to “a street fighter,” like himself. He said Conway, who had backed Trump rival Ted Cruz in the Republican primaries, could help Trump with “any gender gap problems that he has.”

Trump, a New York real estate developer and former reality TV star who has never held elected office, drew criticism for comments insulting women, Muslims and Mexican immigrants during the campaign for the Republican nomination, which he formally secured in July.

More recently, he has faced a barrage of criticism from Republicans over his freewheeling campaign style and his refusal to stick to a policy message.

In particular, he has been rebuked for his prolonged feud with the family of a Muslim U.S. Army captain who was killed in the Iraq war, and for his unfounded accusation that President Barack Obama and Clinton were the co-founders of the Islamic State militant group. Trump later backed off the comments about Islamic State.

‘WHATEVER IT TAKES’

The campaign’s announcement on Wednesday quoted Trump as saying he was “committed to doing whatever it takes to win” the election. The campaign also said it would make its first major television commercial purchase later this week.

The staff changes, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, are the second time in two months that Trump has shifted his campaign’s leadership. In June, he fired longtime aide Lewandowski as campaign manager and handed more power to senior campaign aide Paul Manafort.

The statement from the Trump campaign said Manafort would remain as campaign chairman and chief strategist.

Manafort drew unwelcome attention to the campaign this week when the New York Times reported that Manafort’s name was on secret ledgers showing cash payments designated to him of more than $12 million from a Ukrainian political party with close ties to Russia. Manafort denied any impropriety on Monday.

Ukrainian officials confirmed Manafort’s name appeared on a ledger and that more than $12 million had been allocated as an expenditure, but added that the presence of his name did not mean he received the funds.

Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs <GS.N> banker who also served in the U.S. Navy, came under criticism as not supporting Michelle Fields, a reporter who said she was grabbed and bruised by Lewandowski at a March campaign event in Florida. Lewandowski was charged with battery but the charge was later dropped.

Ben Shapiro, a Breitbart editor who resigned from the organization along with Fields, called Bannon a bully who sold out to “another bully, Donald Trump,” to protect Trump’s man.

“He has shaped the company into Trump’s personal Pravda, to the extent that he abandoned and undercut his own reporter,” Shapiro said in a statement at the time.

(Reporting by Caren Bohan and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Frances Kerry)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a campaign rally at the Ziegler Building at the Washington County Fair Park &amp; Conference Center in West Bend, Wisconsin August 16, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer/File Photo