Trump campaign chairman and chief strategist Paul Manafort resigned on Friday, following a staff shake-up this week that reduced his role in the campaign.
GOP nominee Donald Trump confirmed the resignation in a statement: “This morning Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign. I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process. Paul is a true professional and I wish him the greatest success.”
Manafort is leaving on good terms, and will remain an ally and outside confidant of the campaign, according to a close associate of his who spoke on the condition of anonymity Friday to The Washington Post.
According to conversations late Thursday with Trump aides, Manafort’s departure was expected to come because of the reshuffling of the campaign’s staff earlier in the week, with Breitbart News’ Stephen K. Bannon being named chief executive and GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway assuming the role of campaign manager.
Manafort has had an easy rapport with both Conway and Bannon in meetings this week but was inclined to leave to give them room to develop and execute their own strategy, the aides said.
Manafort’s move took some by surprise because they thought that even though he had been lowered on the staff hierarchy, he would stay on as an adviser. “He didn’t seem like he was going to do it,” said one person familiar with Manafort’s thinking as of Wednesday night. “He said, ‘Look I think I can still help Donald.’”
The resignation comes as the campaign seeks to correct course after weeks of damaging controversies and self-inflicted wounds, effectively eroding Trump’s position against Clinton in the polls and his post-convention bump. Trump is now trailing Clinton in every major poll.
Manafort had repeatedly signaled to members of the Republican establishment that he and Trump were working together to rebrand the candidate as more presidential. But hopes of a so-called “pivot” vanished as the summer wore on and Trump appeared intent on settling scores with former rivals within his own party and critics. Perhaps most damaging was Trump’s attack on a Gold Star family — who lost their son, Army Capt. Humayun Khan, while he served in Iraq — for speaking out against him at the Democratic National Convention. He later refused to apologize or express regret, although he did say late Thursday that he was sorry if he had caused “personal pain” for unspecified comments.
But aside from Trump’s own missteps, Republican strategists also became increasingly concerned that the campaign, under the direction of Manafort, had failed to build out a robust infrastructure in key battleground states. Though the campaign is relying heavily on the Republican National Committee for its ground game, lackluster efforts by the main campaign have left Trump underprepared for the competitive general election.
Manafort’s personal business dealings have also come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks, amid damaging questions over his ties to foreign governments and indications that he might have received $ 12.7 million in undisclosed cash payments. The alleged payments, which Manafort denied, were noted in a ledger kept by the political party of Ukraine’s then-president, Viktor Yanukovych. Since then, more evidence has surfaced that raised concerns about his ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.
One GOP strategist said Manafort was undone by the combination of revelations about his work on behalf of those pro-Russian forces and the elevation of Conway and Bannon. “If you had had one of these things happen, it would have been survivable. But you had two of these things in concert,” the strategist said. “One thing I don’t think Trump will tolerate is the focus being on someone else rather than himself.”
Manafort’s background finally caught up with him. Friends of Manafort said Friday that it was clear that he was taking a calculated risk by joining Trump’s campaign. “He knows he’s been doing this stuff. It was going to become an issue. He wasn’t prepared to tamp it down. When he decided to re-enter high-profile American politics, and he ratcheted it up with lots of Sunday shows and TV appearances, he had to know he was putting himself out there as a target.”
Still, Manafort played a key role in trying to reposition Trump for the general election, trying to strike a balance between the volatile and unpredictable Trump of the primaries and a more even-keeled candidate many GOP officials and donors hoped to see as he moved toward the general election. “Any semblance of the sort of structured political advice he was going to get from Manafort is going to be gone now,” said one strategist who knows Manafort. “You don’t have a voice in those meetings any longer that has presidential experience.”
Manafort formally joined Trump’s campaign in late March to oversee preparations for the Republican convention, which at that point was poised to turn into a battle for delegates. He immediately clashed with Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s long-serving campaign manager who had never worked on a presidential campaign. For months, the two scuffled for power and access to Trump.
On May 19, after Trump collected the necessary number of delegates to lock up the nomination, Trump promoted Manafort to the position of campaign chairman, a clear slight to Lewandowski. One month after that, Trump fired Lewandowski on June 20, clearing Manafort to run the campaign.
The firing followed Trump’s controversial comments about the heritage of a judge assigned to a civil case involving Trump University – comments that many strategists blamed Lewandowski for failing to rein in.
Manafort took a much different approach to running the campaign than Lewandowski had. While Lewandowski and his small band of aides with limited or no presidential campaign experience operated under a motto of “Let Trump Be Trump,” Manafort quickly seemed to implement some limits on Trump. Prior to Manafort’s arrival, Trump was frequently a guest on the influential Sunday morning news shows that often set the tone for the week, sometimes calling into or appearing on numerous shows the same day. Starting this spring, Trump’s appearances became rarer — and Manafort often appeared in his place.
The atmosphere at Trump Tower in recent days has been more hopeful that the lagging campaign has been kick-started, according to several staffers. According to one adviser, about 25 staffers gathered Thursday evening for an impromptu viewing party on the building’s 14th floor, where a new space for volunteers and advisers’ offices just opened. Cheers erupted as Trump offered his remarks on humility and harshly criticized Clinton, with Bannon tracking responses to the speeches from his phone and Conway back from a round of television interviews.
It was a rare moment in a campaign that has largely ignored its headquarters as a focal point in the operation. Instead, Trump’s traveling entourage has been the power center. Conway and Bannon, in an effort to change that dynamic, stayed behind Thursday and gathered the staff at all levels to watch the candidate together.
Jose A. DelReal and Jenna Johnson contributed to this story.