Trump Chief Of Staff Priebus Is Out — In Biggest White House Staff Shake-Up Yet | WBEZ
Skip to main content


Trump Chief Of Staff Priebus Is Out — In Biggest White House Staff Shake-Up Yet

Previous Next

He rose from relative state-party obscurity and reached an unlikely pinnacle as the man responsible for the agenda of the president of the United States.

Now, Reince Priebus is out of that job as White House chief of staff in the most significant shakeup of the rocky Trump presidency.

Trump announced on Twitter that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has been named as Priebus' replacement.

As chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign, Priebus' team supplanted a thin Trump campaign with money and staff to help Trump win the presidency. That brought Trump and Priebus close, but it was never a natural fit — the mild-mannered, careful former Wisconsin Republican Party leader with the Midwestern accent, once critically described as the "nebbish's nebbish," and the flashy, cavalier New York billionaire.

Priebus' exit indicates the full decline in the White House of the RNC-led Washington wing. Priebus was the last of the high-profile RNC staffers to exit the West Wing. Months ago, Priebus' deputy, Katie Walsh, a former RNC chief of staff, accused of being a leaker by rivals inside the White House, left to work on an outside PAC supporting Trump. Then it was Sean Spicer, the beleaguered press secretary doubling as communication director, who left the day Trump brought on board New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director.

Priebus' tenure lasted just seven months, an unusually short stint for a president's first chief of staff.


Priebus and "The Mooch"

Despite lauding Priebus in his first appearance in the White House Briefing Room, Scaramucci days later revealed simmering tensions with the then-chief of staff. Those tensions burst wide open into public view Thursday when Scaramucci, who refers to himself as "The Mooch," called a reporter and unloaded on Priebus.

Anthony Scaramucci, White House communications director, points as he arrives during a press briefing on July 21.
    (Alex Brandon/AP)

"Reince is ... a paranoiac," Scaramucci told The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza. Scaramucci was annoyed, thinking his financial disclosure was leaked to the media. It turns out, a Politico reporter obtained it through a public-information request.

Fearful of an unscheduled meeting or phone call or even a rogue tweet at the thumbs of the president, Priebus made it a point of keeping close by Trump's side. But there were signs that Priebus was, at times, out of the loop, like when Trump decided to hire Scaramucci. Both Priebus and senior adviser Steve Bannon reportedly objected strenuously to the move.

The fact that Priebus is the one who is out certainly lends credence to the idea that the New York wing, which believes in letting Trump be Trump, is ascendant in the White House.

Embracing the tornado

As chairman of the RNC, Priebus had the unenviable role of trying to keep the roof on the Republican Party house with Trump, an outsider tornado, spiraling toward it.

Priebus tried to contain the tornado, getting Trump to agree to a pledge not to run third-party in the fall, if he lost the nomination. But the tornado of Trump only got stronger, and no amount of plywood and nails would keep the house in order.

Instead, Priebus opened the doors and arguably did more than anyone else in the party to embrace the coming force.

That didn't mean he wasn't critical.

Former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer entering the White House in July.
    (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

"No woman should ever be described in these terms or talked about in this manner. Ever," Priebus said in October when the Access Hollywood video was revealed. Trump was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women "by the p****," because "when you're a star, they let you do anything."

But Priebus had to temper his criticisms throughout the campaign, so he didn't suffer Trump's wrath — and the party didn't implode. During the general-election campaign, Priebus' RNC wound up supplementing Trump's skeleton campaign with millions of dollars in resources and hundreds of field workers in key states.

Loss of an ally

Priebus wound up winning over Trump. Perhaps it was a calculated decision to get support from someone with ties to a crucial state. Trump needed Priebus, a member of the so-called "Cheesehead Mafia." Priebus is close with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite. (Ryan is actually Priebus' congressman.)

Why make an enemy of Priebus, when he could be a critical ally, as Trump tried to get his agenda passed? But the wheels have been anything but greased. Priebus' exit comes a day after Republicans' health care efforts were sunk in Congress, at least for now.

A tax overhaul hasn't materialized, despite pledges of addressing it by the summer. And a conversation on infrastructure is only talk of the future.

A chief of staff traditionally is the gatekeeper for the president, but despite his best efforts, Priebus struggled to be that.

Trump has veered off-message in tweets, his handling of the Russia investigation, the firing James Comey as FBI director (arguably his most high-profile political miscue) and with his public shaming of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which turned many congressional Republicans on the president.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit

Get the WBEZ App

Download the best live and on-demand public radio experience. Find out more.