Donald Trump\’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, resigned Friday under fire over pro-Kremlin ties and after being sidelined in a reshuffle as the Republican nominee battles to reverse sinking poll numbers.
The departure of the smooth-talking seasoned strategist, who has advised Republican presidential candidates going back to Gerald Ford, follows weeks of Trump missteps that have flung his White House campaign into crisis.
"This morning, Paul Manafort offered, and I accepted, his resignation from the campaign," Trump said in a statement, thanking him for "his great work" and proclaiming him a "true professional."
Manafort\’s exit coincides what supporters call a new era in the Trump campaign following the appointment Wednesday of a right-wing news executive as CEO and the promotion of a respected pollster to campaign manager.
On Thursday, Trump shocked many by expressing "regret" for the first time for past mistakes and on Friday the campaign began airing its first television ads in a desperate attempt to chip into Democratic rival Hillary Clinton\’s yawning lead in both national and crucial swing-state polls.
"The early signs are that, you know, Donald Trump 3.0 is going to work a lot better than it has in the past," former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said on MSNBC television.
But the Clinton campaign pounced on Manafort\’s resignation in an attempt to fan accusations of nefarious pro-Kremlin influence on the Trump campaign after the outgoing chairman was named in a Ukrainian corruption probe.
"You can get rid of Manafort, but that doesn\’t end the odd bromance Trump has with (Russian leader Vladimir) Putin," said campaign manager Robby Mook.
"Trump still has to answer serious questions hovering over his campaign given his propensity to parrot Putin\’s talking points."
Manafort, who formerly advised Ukrainian ex-president Viktor Yanukovych and lobbied for foreign dictators, was initially hired in March to avert a then-feared contested Republican convention — a situation that did not ultimately arise.
It was his first return to top-level Republican politics in 20 years — having been reportedly passed over in 2008 by John McCain, who was allegedly alarmed by his unsavory lobbying clientele.
But it seems it was an appointment that both Trump and Manafort came to regret.
Manafort sought to turn the brash-talking 70-year-old New York billionaire, who has never previously held elected office, into a figure more palatable to the general electorate as well as build up a traditional campaign structure.
Trump "was not a candidate that could be corralled," Steele told MSNBC.
"Trying to find that sweet spot where Donald could be Donald, but you can also put together the formal structures and the professional aspects of the campaign was a lot tougher for one person to do," he said.
A series of controversies, including a protracted row with the Muslim American parents of a soldier killed in Iraq, saw Trump tank disastrously in the polls.
Clinton now leads 47.2 percent to Trump\’s 41.2 percent, according to an average of national polls from Real Clear Politics, and is ahead in virtually every swing state.
But as the US press published story after story of staff tearing their hair out with their boss\’s seeming inability to stay on message, Trump batted aside suggestions that he should change tack.
On Wednesday, Trump appeared to sideline Manafort in appointing a Breitbart News executive, Steve Bannon, as campaign CEO and promoting veteran pollster Kellyanne Conway to campaign manager.
But even without the reshuffle, Manafort\’s ties to the pro-Kremlin Yanukovych became a distraction as Trump spoke admiringly of Putin and even sensationally suggested that Moscow should hack into Clinton\’s emails.
The head of Ukraine\’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Artem Sytnyk, said this week that more than $12 million was earmarked for payment to Manafort from 2007 to 2012, although it was not clear if he received the money.
Manafort denied any wrongdoing, saying he had "never received a single \’off-the books cash payment,\’" or worked for the governments of Ukraine or Russia.
Steele said Manafort\’s departure "makes perfect sense."
What remains unclear, however, is whether the Trump campaign can get its wheels permanently back on track.
On Friday, the ticket released its first television ads, saying Clinton\’s America was one of disorder and illegal immigration.
Trump also made a second direct pitch to African American voters this week, saying they had been betrayed by the Democrats in a speech well received by his audience at his Thursday rally in North Carolina.