Donald Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort resigned on Friday, parting ways with the Republican nominee who is trying to reset his White House race with a long overdue pivot.
Trump began the process this week with a top-level reshuffle of his team, and followed it up with a stunning expression of regret for unspecified offensive remarks at a campaign rally on Thursday.
“Sometimes in the heat of debate, and speaking on a multitude of issues, you don't choose the right words or you say the wrong thing. I have done that,” Trump told his supporters.
“And believe it or not I regret it. I do regret it, particularly where it may have caused personal pain. Too much is at stake for us to be consumed with these issues.”
Was he expressing regret about his public feud with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, parents of a fallen Muslim-American soldier, that outraged even his own supporters and allies? Was that about calling Mexicans criminals and rapists? Or for saying Senator John McCain was not a war hero?
The list is long, and he did not specify.
The New York businessman, known for his bombastic style of speaking and combativeness, has rarely if ever backed down in a confrontation or retracted his remarks or apologised.
This was completely out of character, which made pundits and experts wonder if this was part of the long overdue pivot to a more disciplined, traditionally presidential Trump.
The Republican nominee wants to run his campaign the way he ran it during the primaries — by being himself. “I am who I am,” he said in tweets and multiple interviews.
His advisers have counselled him to run a more disciplined race, not trigger needless controversies through off-the-cuff remarks or get distracted by real or imagined slights and insults.
While the let-Trump-be-Trump approach served him well during the primaries, it failed to help him expand his appeal beyond his core supporters, necessary for him to stand a chance.
His poll numbers sank, leaving him trailing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by six points in the RealClearPolitics average of polls nationally and by widening margins in critical swing states.
His presidential bid was in trouble, with Republican party leaders considering cutting him off, to focus on congressional races and insulate them from his doomed campaign.
After reports appeared recently of chaos in his campaign, Trump brought in Steve Bannon and promoted Kellyane Conway, a pollster already on his roll, as campaign manager.
Manafort, whose earlier career as a lobbyist for some of the world’s most controversial figures had come under intense scrutiny in recent days, was clearly sidelined.
With his exit, Trump’s new team will try to shape his campaign the best way it can. And forcing him to use a teleprompter, as he did for the apology speech, more may not be a bad start.