By Ben Kamisar - 08-21-16 11:00 AM EDT
Republicans say Donald Trump needs to make the election more of a referendum on Hillary Clinton to win the White House.
Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, used her party's national convention to cast the election as a referendum on Trump. In the weeks since, her campaign has continued to run television ads underlining the argument that Trump does not have the temperament and judgment to be president. And Trump, the Republican nominee, has played into Clinton's hands with some recent controversies.
Republicans are hoping that will change in the coming weeks.
"If Trump is going to win, this campaign cannot be about his personality and fitness to be president," said GOP strategist Ford O'Connell, a veteran of Arizona Sen. John McCain's 2008 campaign.
"It has to be a referendum on Clinton specifically being a continuation of the failed [President] Obama record and Clinton's list of scandals."
Trump sought to recharge his campaign on Wednesday with a shake-up that made Breitbart News executive Stephen Bannon his campaign CEO and Kellyanne Conway his campaign manager. On Friday, Chairman Paul Manafort said he was resigning from the campaign.
The move could signal a new effort to make the campaign more about Clinton.
In Bannon, Trump has a CEO experienced in building a media narrative and someone with plenty of experience in telling negative stories about Clinton. In Conway, Trump has a veteran pollster who knows how to reach Republican women.
Bannon spearheaded the publication of "Clinton Cash," which accused Clinton's State Department of acting to benefit donors to the Clinton Foundation. The book led to stories about the foundation in The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets, furthering scrutiny of the foundation's donations. On Thursday, former President Bill Clinton announced it would not accept corporate or foreign donations if Hillary Clinton is elected president.
Breitbart under Bannon also has regularly posted stories raising questions about Clinton's health, despite repeated assertions from her doctors that she is healthy. And the website regularly brings up more sordid allegations from Clinton's past, including former President Bill Clinton's affair and the rape allegations against him.
Corey Lewandowski, Trump's former campaign manager, said Friday that the campaign is now "squarely focused on attacking Hillary Clinton."
"Sometimes you have to change things, particularly in a campaign that in the last three of four weeks has missed, in my opinion, opportunities to go after Hillary Clinton for the failures of her campaign and to point out those failures," Lewandowski, now a CNN commentator, said on CNN.
"I don't think they've done a good job on that. But what you have now with Kellyanne Conway, a messaging expert, she's someone who is going to relay those bullet points to Mr. Trump about some of the issues the Clinton campaign and Hillary Clinton have done," he said.
O'Connell sees Bannon's role as twofold: to keep up the excitement among Trump's working-class base and to "go after Hillary Clinton in a far more strategic way" than before.
"You can't just comment on the news as it comes down the pipe or on the scandal of the day, you have to create a long-arc narrative, and I think that's something Steve Bannon might focus on in an intense way," he said.
"You may have to throw the kitchen sink at the wall, and some people may just have to bite their tongue along the way."
Many conservatives have been frustrated by the lack of attention to a series of negative stories that could have hurt Clinton but have instead fallen by the wayside in favor of the latest outrage over Trump.
Over the past month, those stories have included a slew of allegations surrounding the Clinton Foundation, the appearance of the Orlando shooter's father at a Clinton rally and Clinton's lack of press availability.
"Beating Hillary Clinton is very possible if the race became a referendum on her," said GOP strategist Mike DuHaime, who advised New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's presidential bid, in an email.
He expressed frustration that Trump's campaign hadn't already done more to make the race about Clinton.
"Given the favorable ratings of each, whoever this race is ultimately about will be the loser," he said.
Clinton staffers say they are ready for the shift and have already begun tarring a Bannon-led Trump campaign as synonymous with the "vast right-wing conspiracy" that Clinton warned about in the '90s.
She's fundraised off of the shake-up four times this week, and campaign manager Robby Mook deridedBannon as "someone best known for running a so-called news site that peddles divisive, at times racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories" during a call with reporters.