July 31, 2017

Trump Rinses Himself of Priebus

After a tumultuous six months, the chief of staff is out, and Trump names Gen. John Kelly as his replacement.

A whirlwind of change occurred over the last 10 days at the White House, starting with the hiring of Anthony Scaramucci as communications director and the immediate departure of Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Scaramucci’s hiring — and profane tirade to the media — now appears to have precipitated the resignation of Reince Priebus as chief of staff. Donald Trump quickly named the current director of Homeland Security, Gen. John Kelly, as Priebus’ replacement. After months of an administration troubled with staff infighting and the seemingly unending problem of West Wing leaks to the press, Trump’s frustration reached the breaking point. And heads rolled.

The ouster of Priebus was more a question of “when” than “if” for Trump. It’s now all the more clear what Trump’s longtime friend Christopher Ruddy observed back in early February: “I think there’s a lot of weakness coming out of the chief of staff. I think Reince Priebus [is a] good guy, well-intentioned, but he clearly doesn’t know how the federal agencies work. He doesn’t have a really good system. He doesn’t know how the communications flow.”

Priebus may have been in over his head. He was clearly never able to rein in all the competing factions or bring any discipline to the administration’s messaging. Too often the White House appeared more like a three-ring circus than a tightly run ship. This was made all the more challenging with the hostile media taking every leak as an opportunity to spin the narrative against Trump and his agenda. In fact, Trump often made things all the more difficult with his propensity to go off message himself.

So why did Trump choose Priebus for his chief of staff in the first place? Two words: loyalty and establishment. Once Trump had secured the Republican presidential nomination, Priebus, as head of the Republican National Committee, stepped up and resisted the cavalcade from many establishment Republicans to work to remove Trump. Thus, after Trump’s surprise election victory, he chose Priebus because of loyalty. Second, Trump may have calculated that he needed a Beltway guy to help sway establishment Republicans into getting on board with his agenda.

For his part, Priebus maintained his support for Trump after his firing and gave no hint of bitterness, stating, “It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve this president and our country. I want to thank the president for giving me this very special opportunity. I will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the president’s agenda and polices. I can’t think of a better person than General John Kelly to succeed me and I wish him God’s blessings and great success.”

On a final note, it may say a great deal about the calamitous state of the leaky White House that Trump thinks the guy to fix it is a military man who heads the Department of Homeland Security.

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