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As November Approaches, Trump Overhauls Campaign Staff


We're trying to understand what some big staff changes in Donald Trump's campaign could mean for the next 80 days. Seems like it could be a pretty combative period leading to Election Day. Trump has brought in a conservative media activist, Steve Bannon, to lead the campaign. Bannon is the top executive of the conservative website Breitbart News.

His colleagues describe him as a crusader and a fighter's fighter. He has no campaign experience. Trump's new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, has never run a campaign. And one person working for both of them is Boris Epshteyn, a senior campaign adviser to Donald Trump. And he's on the line with us from New York City. Mr. Epshteyn, good morning.

BORIS EPSHTEYN: Good morning, David. Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Well, thanks for coming on. So your new boss - considered by many to be quite a lightning rod. Isn't that a little risky to have him in charge of bringing you back in the polls?

EPSHTEYN: Well, listen, the campaign now is run by a team of really strong folks. It's run by Paul Manafort, who remains the campaign chairman...

GREENE: Uh-huh.

EPSHTEYN: ...Kellyanne Conway, who has a long lifetime of experience in politics. And Steve Bannon has been very successful in the business and media side. So it's a very strong team - very unusual for campaigns to have - you know, to have somebody who is that strong on the business side involved. But, you know, that's a big part of the reason why Donald Trump has been so successful.

GREENE: But why Steve Bannon? I mean, Breitbart is known as presenting a pretty divisive, partisan point of view and also one that is against the Republican establishment. I mean, they've shown vitriol for House Speaker Paul Ryan. I guess - I mean, just how does this help Donald Trump become more appealing to, you know, the swing voters that you'll need?

EPSHTEYN: You know, it's not that Breitbart the company is part of the campaign. It's Steve Bannon. The specific person is now a part of the campaign. And he brings very specific skills with media, with online, with digital that are very important in this day and age to campaigns. And it's that skill set that was attractive to Donald Trump in Mr. Bannon. And that's why Mr. Bannon's part of the campaign.

GREENE: So you're saying he's going to give up sort of what he - you know, in the words of some of his supporters - crusaded for when he was leading? Is he going to be a different person?

EPSHTEYN: No. And of course, he's not going to be a different person. He's a voice in the room. So - but, you know - so what I'm saying is it's not the news website Breitbart that's part of the campaign. It's Mr. Bannon with his views - but, most importantly, his skill set - that's now part of the team.

GREENE: But if I may, I just think of Breitbart and sort of the - I mean, an alt-right racist tone it's had. There was a recent headline - "Bill Kristol: Republican Spoiler, Renegade Jew." I mean, this is the man running your campaign now. How do we not, you know, sort of look at those things as a sign of where the campaign might be going?

EPSHTEYN: Because you have to look at the whole team running it. You got Kellyanne Conway, someone who also came on. And Mr. Bannon is getting a whole lot of coverage. Kellyanne Conway is the new campaign manager. She's someone who has been, you know, very familiar with the Republicans for a long time now - familiar with the establishment but yet, also, an outsider because she has her own business, the Polling Company, that's been very successful.

So if you look at the whole team, from Paul Manafort, Kellyanne Conway to Mr. Bannon, it's a diverse team in terms of their backgrounds, in terms of who they appeal to. And it's a very strong one to make sure we win on November 8.

GREENE: OK, you've worked in other presidential campaigns. I mean, you've worked for John McCain. I mean, you know what works in the primaries doesn't always work in a general election. You know, swing voters are important. Donald Trump needs to win over, you know, voters who he might not have won over in the primary season. What is the plan here? I mean, is it to let him do what he's best at - grab headlines, make these over-the-top pronouncements, defy the norms, as we've seen?

EPSHTEYN: The plan is to stick to the message of the issues, which is national security and foreign policy, as well as immigration, trade. And you've seen that in two very strong speeches this week - just this week, a speech on defeating ISIS and then the speech on, you know, law and order and making - bringing inner cities back from the despair that they're in, which, frankly...

GREENE: Yeah, well, he - let me ask you about that. He has denied that he's going to really change here. You seem to be suggesting that he is going to be a more on-message candidate - did that kind of dismiss him? We'll see.

EPSHTEYN: No. What I'm saying is that you're going to see the candidate you've seen, which is a combination of the candidate giving these policy speeches to Donald Trump, you know, in his rallies. The reason that the voters have been so attracted to Donald Trump is his authenticity. And that's absolutely not going to change.

And it was never going to change, no matter who's running the campaign. The Donald Trump campaign is the Trump-Pence campaign. And again, you cannot change a candidate who received 14 million votes in the primaries - more than ever in the history of the GOP primary. But now, of course, looking forward to the November 8 election, you have to make sure that you have a broad spectrum of voters who are coming out for you.

And we are confident that's going to happen. You know, listen, it's the dog days of summer. The polls are tightening. In the LA Times poll, it's 1 percent. In the Reuters poll, the Bloomberg poll, NBC poll, it's about 5, 6 percent. Still very tight - and it's going to continue to tighten.

GREENE: You definitely have some work ahead of you. And it was good talking to you. And thanks so much for coming on the program this morning.

EPSHTEYN: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: Boris Epshteyn is a senior adviser to the Trump campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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