Priebus flexes muscle in Trump Tower
Reince Priebus is never far from Donald Trump’s side.
The outgoing chairman of the Republican National Committee and incoming White House chief of staff often joins Trump when he interviews candidates for his Cabinet in his cozy Trump Tower office. He accompanies Trump at high-level meetings, like their well-publicized dinner with Mitt Romney.
And he frequently makes jaunts with the president-elect in Trump’s jet, from a victory rally in Priebus’s native Wisconsin to a recent Army-Navy football game.
“Trump and Reince have a tremendous rapport with each other,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who observed the two men interact with each other at Trump Tower during his interview for Energy secretary this month.
“Trump’s respect for Reince is very obvious. Reince was never disrespectful, but he never hesitated to jump right in. I was impressed.”
The Wisconsin Republican’s first month as Trump’s chief of staff has been marked by successes, and a few setbacks.
Priebus failed to convince Trump that one of his most vocal critics during the campaign, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, should head the State Department.
But Priebus successfully lobbied Trump to name Romney’s niece, Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, to succeed Priebus as head of the RNC. Some inside Trump Tower had pushed for an outsider — in the mold of Trump — to lead the massive organization.
If RNC chief strategist and spokesman Sean Spicer wins the job of White House press secretary, that would also be viewed as a victory for Priebus. Spicer is just one of a handful of top RNC staffers Priebus is hoping to bring to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. next month.
Leading the RNC during the campaign, Priebus repeatedly demonstrated his ability to broker a peace between the volatile Trump and the GOP establishment, which usually had the knives out for the Manhattan real estate mogul and reality TV star.
More than a year ago, Priebus made the trek from Washington to Trump Tower to personally plea with the candidate to sign a loyalty pledge that he’d back the GOP’s presidential nominee — a bid to head off the potential threat of Trump launching an independent bid for the White House.
When Trump floated a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. a few months later, Priebus said he disagreed but didn’t throw Trump under the bus. And when Trump’s now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced and his candidacy appeared on the verge of collapse weeks before Election Day, it was Priebus who fended off calls by party leaders to dump Trump, arguing that doing so would be harmful to down-ballot candidates and put GOP control of Congress at risk.
At times, Priebus has privately grumbled about the constant stream of headaches involved with keeping Trump in line. But overall, he’s been a steadfast and loyal defender of the president-elect.
“Priebus took the lemons and turned it into lemonade,” said one RNC member who has worked with Priebus for years. “Reince Priebus protected Trump from the wrath of the Republican establishment so many times. I’m not sure Trump knew that then; he certainly knows it now.”
Perhaps above all else, Trump values loyalty. And just day after the election, he offered Priebus the chief of staff job — a move that was cheered by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), a close friend of the RNC chair, and others in the establishment wing of the party.
His appointment, the RNC member explained, gives thousands of establishment Republicans “a connection to the White House.” And Priebus’s proximity to Trump has given many Republicans on Capitol Hill and around Washington reassurances as an unpredictable political newcomer prepares to be sworn in as commander in chief.
“Reince has been instrumental in working with Congressional leaders on our shared legislative priorities for early next year. He is universally trusted and respected on Capitol Hill,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who frequently speaks with both Trump and Priebus, said in a statement.
Added Matt Moore, the chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party: “Reince Priebus is the ultimate team player. He could have written his ticket in Washington following the presidential election, but instead chose to serve the country and Mr. Trump.”
On Friday, Priebus traveled to the White House and huddled with an exclusive club: White House chiefs of staff past and present, a group that included President Obama’s five chiefs and John Podesta, President Bill Clinton’s chief who went on to chair Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 presidential campaign.
But while he may belong to the political elite that Trump railed on and ran against this past year, Priebus is already signaling that he’ll help his boss shake things up while running the White House.
Priebus shocked the D.C. press corps last week, suggesting the Trump White House may change the format of the daily press briefing and rearrange the seating chart in the James Brady Press Briefing Room.
“The traditions, while some of them are great, I think it’s time to revisit a lot of these things that have been done in the White House,” Priebus said during an interview with conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt.
“And I can assure you that change is going to happen.”
Jonathan Easley and Jordan Fabian contributed.