While the presidential candidates may be the figureheads of their respective parties, the teams behind them play just as large a role in shaping policy and campaign strategy as the nominees themselves. With this in mind, Clinton and Trump announced the heads of their ‘White House Transition Teams’, and in doing so gave insight to the direction of their campaigns.
Clinton gave no surprises. Her team will be chaired by Ken Salazar, a centrist former-senator from Colorado. While his pro-trade positions will win him no love from the minority of disaffected Sanders supporters, he is an uncontroversial pick for the vast majority of Americans. Thus, he is the logical choice for the Clinton camp, who are looking to wage a campaign that portrays itself as calm and competent in the face of Donald Trump. With her poll numbers still thrashing the Republican candidate, Clinton needs to maintain this coasting strategy to November.
One day later, in a move almost the polar opposite of his Democrat rival, Trump announced a shake up of his own team. A new role was created in campaign chief executive, and this position was given to Stephen Bannon, chairman of Breitbart News. For the uninitiated, Breitbart News is a far right, conspiracy pedalling, at times racist website that has recently had a surge in popularity among Trump supporters. As the newfound media arm of the alt-right, the writers at Breitbart have accused Hillary of having brain damage, claimed that a Muslim aide to Clinton is a Saudi spy, repeatedly insinuated that Obama is an anti-white racist, and directly accused the Clinton family of murdering DNC staffers. Alongside it’s diatribes against Muslims and African Americans, the Republican Party itself is a common target of Breitbart. Consistently decreed as being corrupt and out of touch, this appointment will do little to mend the divisions between GOP insiders and Trump supporters
The implications of appointing an editor of this website to the position of Campaign Chief Executive are clear. The Trump camp is no longer interested in attempting to be presidential. For a brief week Trump did attempt such a pivot, and while it did raise his polling numbers he fell prey to his own tendencies and soon began attacking the Muslim parents of a dead American soldier. It is now obvious that Trump is looking to run a dirty campaign. Expect the attacks on Clinton to become far more extreme, and for nationalistic rhetoric to be ramped up in the coming months as the Trump camp embraces its figurehead unfiltered speech.
But while speeches such as these may invigorate the crowds of trump supporters who turn out in droves to witness them, they will do little to change the course of the election. Trump’s main voting bloc, older whites without college education, still favour the candidate massively. However, his popularity continues to drop amongst women, minorities and college educated whites. This bombastic, controversial strategy won him the Republican primaries, but in that contest he benefited from a large field of candidates and a very select group of mostly white voters. A normal candidate will have already made the pivot towards a more centrist position, and will have toned down the rhetoric against minorities. Yet Trump seems determined not to be a normal candidate
By this point in the election, with their candidate dropping in the polls, the Trump team should have recognised a change in tone was needed. Yet despite the pleading of Republican Party Figureheads such as Paul Ryan, in bringing Bannon on board Trump has chosen to ramp up his failing strategy. While Trump prides himself on flaunting tradition, in this move he has also managed to ignore common sense.