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Reince Priebus Is Out As White House Chief Of Staff, But The Chaos Is Likely To Continue

Donald Trump Oval Office

In yet another major announcement first revealed to the public via Twitter, President Trump announced last yesterday afternoon that former Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus was out as White House Chief of Staff and that Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, a retired General, would be replacing him beginning on Monday:

WASHINGTON — Reince Priebus, the White House chief of staff who failed to impose order on a chaos-racked West Wing, was pushed out on Friday after a stormy six-month tenure, and President Trump replaced him with John F. Kelly, the secretary of homeland security and retired four-star Marine general.

Mr. Trump announced the change via Twitter while sitting aboard Air Force One on a tarmac outside Washington minutes after returning from Long Island. Mr. Priebus, who had joined the president on the trip and never let on to other passengers what was about to occur, stepped off the plane into a drenching rain, ducked into a car and was driven away without comment.

Mr. Trump then emerged under a large umbrella and praised his outgoing and incoming chiefs. “Reince is a good man,” Mr. Trump shouted to nearby reporters. “John Kelly will do a fantastic job. General Kelly has been a star, done an incredible job thus far, respected by everybody, a great, great, American. But Reince Priebus — a good man.”

Mr. Priebus’s ouster was the latest convulsion in a White House that has been whipsawed by feuds and political setbacks in recent days. The president became convinced that Mr. Priebus was not strong enough to run the White House operation and told him two weeks ago that he wanted to make a change, according to White House officials. Intrigued at the idea of putting a general in charge, Mr. Trump offered the job to Mr. Kelly a few days ago.

Mr. Priebus said he had tendered his resignation to the president on Thursday, the same day the newly appointed White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, was quoted vowing to force the chief of staff out. Even so, as late as Friday morning, Mr. Priebus told colleagues that he thought he would have a week before the announcement to make a graceful exit, but he evidently learned otherwise later in the day. Mr. Kelly will take over the corner office in the West Wing on Monday.

Mr. Priebus said after the announcement that he had always made clear to Mr. Trump that when the president thought it was time for a new chief, he would support that. “The president has a right to change directions,” he said on CNN. “The president has a right to hit a reset button. I think it’s a good time to hit the reset button.”

He expressed no bitterness about his removal. “I’m always going to be a Trump fan,” he said. “I’m on Team Trump, and I look forward to helping him achieve his goals and his agenda for the American people.”

Mr. Kelly will be the first current or former general to serve as White House chief of staff since Alexander M. Haig in the final stretch of President Richard M. Nixon’s administration. Some advisers to Mr. Trump opposed the choice, arguing that Mr. Kelly did not have the political background for the job.

“The president needs someone who understands the Trump constituency as his chief of staff, someone who has both administrative skills and political savvy,” Roger Stone, Mr. Trump’s off-and-on adviser, said, anticipating Mr. Kelly’s selection before the announcement was made.

The rainy Friday afternoon shake-up added to the sense of instability in Mr. Trump’s White House. In six months in office, he has fired a national security adviser, an F.B.I. director and a holdover acting attorney general, while his White House press secretary, communications director, deputy chief of staff, deputy national security adviser and legal team spokesman have all left.

Privately, even Mr. Priebus’s critics wondered how Mr. Kelly would surmount the same challenges — controlling a freewheeling president who often circumvents paid staff members by seeking counsel from a roster of outside advisers.

Other aides were left to wonder about their own future. Mr. Trump has considered pushing out Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, according to a White House official who discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity. Several conservative supporters of Mr. Bannon — including Representative Mark Meadows, the House Freedom Caucus chairman — told Mr. Trump on Friday that the president would risk losing base supporters if he let the strategist go.

Mr. Bannon also helped bring Mr. Kelly into the administration during the transition, and was among those who supported his move to chief of staff, an official familiar with his position said.

Mr. Priebus’s departure was announced 15 hours after the president’s signature drive to repeal his predecessor’s health care program collapsed on the Senate floor and a day after an ugly feud with Mr. Scaramucci erupted in a public airing of the deep animosities plaguing the White House. Mr. Priebus had collaborated with his ally, Speaker Paul D. Ryan, on health care and pushed a bill through the House only to watch it crater in the upper chamber.

“My view is Reince was very well liked by the president, but Donald Trump is a guy who’s all about results, and he will always be looking not only at everyone around him and their results, but his own results,” said Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a friend of the president’s. “I think he’s taking stock and seeing that this health care thing that was promised to him by Reince and Paul Ryan was not properly developed. In my view, he’s a disappointed customer.”

Mr. Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, represented the establishment that Mr. Trump had run against and never won the president’s full confidence nor was granted the authority to impose a working organizational structure on a West Wing that included multiple power centers, including the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Always seeming to be on the edge, Mr. Priebus had hoped to last a full year, but in the end no other White House chief of staff has been forced out after such a short tenure.

Mr. Kushner soured on Mr. Priebus, partly because of what he viewed as the shortcomings of Sean Spicer, an ally of Mr. Priebus’s who was the White House press secretary until last week. Other top aides bristled at Mr. Priebus’s demeanor or suspected that he was undermining them, while an alliance of convenience with Mr. Bannon seemed to fade in recent weeks.

Here are Trump’s tweets making the announcement:

Priebus’s dismissal as Chief of Staff, and make no mistake about it this was a dismissal rather than the voluntary resignation that it is being portrayed as makes him the third-shortest serving White House Chief of Staff in U.S. history. The two men before him on that list are Pete Rouse, who served as an interim Chief of Chief of Staff for President Obama after Rahm Emanuel departed to run for Mayor of Chicago and before Bill Daley was selected in January 2011 to replace Emanuel, and James Baker, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s Chief of Staff from late August 1992 until the end of his term on January 20, 1993.

During those 189 days, Priebus faced that seemingly impossible task of dealing simultaneously with a White House Staff that didn’t seem to have any idea what it was doing, the seemingly omnipresent frequency of leaks from unknown sources inside the White House, and the fact that he was seemingly being constantly undercut by people close to the President, including family members such as Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump and Trump’s political strategist Steve Bannon, who early on was portrayed as a rival for influence over the President. Additionally, from the early days of the Administration there was open speculation, often inspired by leaks from inside the White House, about various individuals such as Kushner and Ivanka or Bannon seeking to force Priebus out of office. Combine that with the ongoing Russia investigation and a President who regularly throws the Administration off its agenda simply by picking up his smartphone and sending out a Tweet, and I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that Priebus seems to have had one of the most difficult tenures of any recent Chief of Staff.

Matters seemed to come to a head over the past week after President Trump brought on Anthony Scaramucci, a technology company executive who had become a vocal Trump surrogate on cable news, as the new White House Communications Director, a move that led White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who was also serving in the dual role of Communications Director, to resign. In doing so, Trump seemed to bypass Priebus entirely with a set up that has Scaramucci reporting directly to the President rather than to the Chief of Staff as has traditionally been the case. Scaramucci, who technically isn’t supposed to start working at the White House until the controversial sale of his company to a Chinese corporation with suspected ties to the People’s Liberation Army is approved by the Federal Government, immediately got to work inside the White House and became a near-constant presence in the news, including a profanity-laced interview with The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza in which Scaramucci went on the warpath against Priebus. In the wake of that article, there were days of reports about the apparent rivalry between Priebus and Scaramucci, all of which led to Priebus’s dismissal yesterday.

General Kelly, who will, of course, need to be replaced at the Department of Homeland Security, begins in his new position on Monday, and he’ll have quite the task ahead of him. As The New York Times reports, Kelly is seen as a beacon of discipline and it’s likely that part of Trump’s hope is that his presence in the West Wing will lead to less chaos than the Administration has seen since the beginning of its tenure in January. For that to happen, though, it seems clear that the Kelly will have to deal with much of the same issues that Priebus did. Regardless of how much respect Trump might have for the former miltary officer, for example, it’s unlikely that he’ll ever have as much influence over Trump as his daughter and son-in-law do, and the fact that he’ll also have to deal with people like Bannon and Scarmucci makes any effort to bring discipline to a clearly undisciplined White House. Most of all, though, any hope of bringing order to the chaos that is the Trump Presidency requires finding a way to rein in the President himself. Nearly every week since he has been President, Trump has managed to undercut the message his own staff is trying to send to the public whether it’s via his constant Twitter activity or something as seemingly simple as a speech to the Boy Scouts of America that ended up resulting in a formal apology from the leaders of the organization itself. This is part of a pattern of behavior that Trump showed long before he ever became a political figure or a candidate for office, and it has held up throughout the early months of his Presidency. The idea that anyone is going to rein him in, or to get a 70-year-old man to change how he acts, is silly.

Good luck, General Kelly, you’re going to need it.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Early this morning I got a message from a friend saying: “I just woke up. Has Trump fired Kelly yet?”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 0

  2. Stormy Dragon says:

    Mr. Trump has considered pushing out Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, according to a White House official who discussed internal deliberations on the condition of anonymity.

    If Bannon gets pushed out, the real question is whether that’s because the Mercers have soured on Bannon or because the Mercers have soured on Trump.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Kelly is a fool. If Scaramucci remains in the WH, Kelly is not really Chief of Staff. And since Scaramucci himself is a well-known leaker, we will soon be treated to his leaks targeting Kelly. Kelly will not be allowed to fire Scaramucci, he will not be able to keep Christofuh Jared Trump or Meadow Ivanka Trump from continuing to provide ‘advice’ that is all about covering up Trump’s (and their) criminal activity. He certainly will not be able to control the malignant man-child.

    Kelly is being overpraised now. I suspect he was chosen in part because he might stall the departure of McMaster and Mattis, but I’d guess his honeymoon will last 30 days or less.

    In the age of WhatsApp White House staffers can easily and safely leak to reporters – the NSA couldn’t trace their texts, let alone lizard boy. And not all WH leaks are exactly from the White House – the whole place is neck deep in lawyers, and with lawyers come paralegals and assistants. The more the Trump Crime Family lawyers up, the more they’ll leak.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 1

  4. CSK says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    Well, Breitbart, which the Mercers bankroll and Bannon used to run, has been souring on Trump, so the Mercers may be souring on Trump.

    Ivanka and Jared appear to be Scaramucci fans, and it’s well-known they dislike Bannon, so…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  5. CSK says:

    What Trump doesn’t seem to get is that he created and enabled the leakers by pitting his staff members against each other. In order to survive another day, you rat out one of your colleagues.

    This is the way he “ran” his business–having all staff members at one another’s throats–so he figures it’s the way to run the WH.

    Either Scaramucci or Kelly will go. Since the Kushners have The Mooch’s back, it will be Kelly who gets the boot.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  6. CSK says:

    On the other hand, I may be wrong about Moochie outlasting Kelly. The latest is that The Mooch has drastically scaled back his press appearances, and will only talk to reporters ‘very occasionally.”

    The reason? It’s not that Trump didn’t care for the obscene tirade; it’s that he feels upstaged by the Mooch.

    That’s the worst crime you can commit in Trump World.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  7. Erik says:

    I will be interested to see if Kelly’s need for order creates order in the West Wing or of the lack of ability to do so pushes him over the edge. Likewise whether his sanctimony will win over his authoritarian impulse to support his Leader in a White House full of corrupt and abhorrent people.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. CSK says:

    @CSK:

    Kelly won’t be able to impose order on the West Wing for the simple reason that no one can as long as Trump is at the helm. Trump wants chaos.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  9. JKB says:

    Well, by definition, if the White House staff can’t get its act together then that is a failure of the Chief of Staff. And while leaks from backstabbing Republicans and continued over Democrats may be inevitable, Priebus failed to get a handle on it or put the fear of their future or perhaps freedom in the leakers.

    No doubt Priebus is great little political, but he didn’t have the chops to build a team nor the will to take some heads. His appointment to CS was a nod to the DC Republicans but they have proven to be worthless allies with their failures in Congress and so removing their man is a classic warning.

    All in all, this is a nice distraction for Democrats whose close ties to the Russian dossier producer, Fusion GPS, have come to light. As well as the arrest of the House Democrats’ IT support contractor, Awan, as he tried to flee the country, a move that finally got Debbie Wasserman-Schultz to fire him after keeping him on at a high salary although he and his family/associates were banned from access to Congressional computers for the last 5 months. And DWS is on record for threatening the Capitol police in an effort to get evidence returned to her.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 17

  10. HarvardLaw92 says:

    @JKB:

    Say this with me:

    “Even if all of this talk radio tripe I’m regurgitating were somehow true, the best it could demonstrate is that Trump is just as corrupt as the people I hate”

    Stand in front of a mirror and repeat that phrase until you have an epiphany.

    And a helpful hint for you:

    “They suck just as much as we do” isn’t strategy. It’s avoidance & deflection.

    :roll:

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 0

  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    @CSK:

    The Mercers are basically at a point they’ve been trying to get to for two decades, and now it’s all turning to shite because of Trump. If the end result of his Presidency is that it unintentionally foiled the Mercers grand design, his presidency may actually end up having been a net positive for the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  12. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:
    Dude, you realize leaking isn’t against the law, right? Unless it involves classified data or docs relevant to current federal investigations. We have this thing you may not have heard of called the First Amendment which protects people’s right to speak…even to reporters. (!) So all the bully-boy talk of putting people in jail is just the usual faux-macho bullshit we have come to expect from the worms Trump employs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    Same with regard to Russia. Poor Vlad bought himself a president who is so utterly incompetent his own party passes legislation to tie his hands with regard to Russia. Sanctions that Hillary might have eased over time are now set in stone because Trump can’t ease sanctions without effectively admitting treason.

    At the same time the whole world is preparing for Putin’s next KGB trick, the western allies are pushing gear and men into the Baltics, Mueller will do serious damage to Putin’s money-laundering ops, and Russia is now confirmed as a kleptocracy. But he’s got Syria! I’m sure he’ll enjoy that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  14. Scott says:

    Apparently, Mooch’s wife just filed for divorce. Is there more drama in the making? This is bad TV.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Scott:
    It’s really unfair. Surely she knew he was a creepy little reptile when she married him.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  16. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds: A weak America is main Putin’s objective, and he’s got it.

    The rest is a nuisance. Yes, we all know Russia is a corrupt oligarchy, but we all know Putin is the corruptest oligarch, and I wouldn’t doubt that he takes pride in that.

    The exposed money laundering and the sanctions will hurt Russia, but Trump is hurting the US more. And that is Putin winning. And there will be so much winning that we will be sick of winning. It just won’t be America that is winning.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  17. Yank says:

    Well, by definition, if the White House staff can’t get its act together then that is a failure of the Chief of Staff. And while leaks from backstabbing Republicans and continued over Democrats may be inevitable, Priebus failed to get a handle on it or put the fear of their future or perhaps freedom in the leakers.

    Priebus can’t stop the leaks because no one fears or respects the President in the WH. You can try to scapegoat Priebus all you want, but the problem here is Trump and the leaks will continue even with Kelly taking over.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  18. Mikey says:

    @HarvardLaw92: Yeah, it amazes me how many Trumpists don’t seem to understand that when all they’ve got left is “I know you are, but what am I?” they have lost.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Gustopher:

    At the end of the day Russia is Italy with nuclear weapons. It is a weak country with far more vulnerabilities than advantages. Putin has done damage to us, no question. But to what end? Russia has no future greatness in the cards. It’s not re-becoming the USSR. Its best outcome is to become to the Orthodox church what Iran is to Shiites.

    I think Putin is a brilliant tactician but no strategist. Kleptocracies do not outperform well-run market states. He’s got a corrupt nation with a single asset providing declining influence, oil and gas. OPEC tried to leverage oil when oil was scarce and they had it all – didn’t work. He has a low-grade war in Ukraine that could blow up any day, he’s got Assad and just made himself enemy number one for a big segment of Sunnis – people with whom Russia has borders in common. He’s failed to kill sanctions, meaning it gets harder for his boys to buy safe-homes in London.

    I don’t minimize his tactical success, but a war is not a single successful thrust. He lacks the power and wealth to do much more than irritate. Ten years from now Russia will yet again be in a state of collapse, Trump will be a bad memory, and we will still be able to outspend him 10 to 1.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  20. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @michael reynolds: Well yes, but she thought he was going to stay a creepy little reptile within the context of investment and derivatives scamming. She really likes living on Lawn Guyland and hates DC.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    “The Mooch” is also going to become an object lesson about the virtues of “cobbler, stay with your last” as Trump discovers that he just hired Foghorn Leghorn.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  22. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @michael reynolds:

    It’s really unfair. Surely she knew he was a creepy little reptile when she married him.

    Yes… but now he will be a creepy little reptile with 50% less money. And with this troop, that is where they hurt the most.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  23. CSK says:

    The latest scuttlebutt is that McMaster is on the way out the door. Apparently Trump finds him “annoying.”

    Bannon is trying to undercut McMaster, but it’s difficult to determine how this will influence what Trrump does, because Bannon’s own position may be tenuous.

    New reality show: Donald Trump’s Game of Thrones.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Joe says:

    Trump lecturing the Senate on its rules: a man who can’t do his own job lecturing others about how to do theirs. Again, drunk at the end of the bar.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  25. DrDaveT says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    as Trump discovers that he just hired Foghorn Leghorn.

    Nah. Even Foghorn Leghorn knew enough to keep his feathers numbered, “for just such an emergency”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. Kylopod says:

    If the Trump White House were a corporation, then what happened here is a new guy was just hired, who on his first day moons and curses out his supervisor, and the company responds by firing the supervisor.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  27. Tyrell says:

    @Scott: yes, it is bad. I will stay with “Young and Restless” and “Zoo”.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  28. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: Russia == Italy + nukes? Nah, the food in Italy is much better.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  29. Just another interested outsider.... says:

    OT:

    According to Politico, Trump ousted Scaramucci…

    But, WH is running like a well oiled machine….

    http://www.politico.com/story/2017/07/31/trump-ousts-scaramucci-as-communications-director-241172

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  30. 1 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Kelly will not be allowed to fire Scaramucci

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0