The President's move completes a purge of Washington insiders
Trump's attempts to merge his New York world with Washington failed
President Donald Trump fired Reince Priebus as his chief of staff on Friday, a move that completes a purge of Washington insiders from Trump’s inner circle and virtually ensures an even harder turn into his outsider rhetoric and approach.
The news, as with so much from Trump, came via Twitter just before 5 pm on the East Coast. “I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff,” Trump tweeted. “He is a Great American and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration.”
It came after Priebus had traveled to Long Island with Trump on Friday; the President delivered a speech on the dangers posed by the MS-13 gang. It also capped an utterly fantastical – and terrible – week for the president in which the chaos within his administration was on public display time and again.
The Priebus firing proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Trump’s attempts to merge his New York and family worlds with the staider environment of official Washington had failed miserably – and that he has clearly sided with those urging him to be more himself over those who had hoped to bend him somewhat to the ways of the nation’s capital.
The ouster of Priebus came a week after White House press secretary Sean Spicer, a Priebus ally, resigned following Trump’s decision to appoint Anthony Scaramucci, a New York hedge fund manager and personal friend of the President, to the job of communications director.
The intervening week was chaos – plain and simple. Trumps’ already-manic tweeting reached new highs (or lows depending on your view) as he repeatedly went after his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Scaramucci immediately put himself in the center of this three-ring circus too – blasting Priebus in graphic terms in an interview with the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza. (Scaramucci also bragged to Lizza about his firing of Michael Short, a Washington hand serving in the White House press shop, and insisted he was conducting a top-to-bottom staff review – the sort of thing a chief of staff typically does.)
Trump was silent on Scaramucci’s public flaying of Priebus – a sort of tacit acknowledgment that the Mooch (as he refers to himself) was acting on the boss’s orders. And, everywhere you looked were signs that Priebus’ days were numbered – a man without allies faced with a President with an itchy firing finger.
Senate Republicans’ surprising failure to pass a piece of health care legislation in the early hours of Friday morning may well have sealed Priebus’ fate as he was actively involved in trying to win the votes to get the bill through the Senate and to a conference committee.
Even if the health care failure was the final spark, it’s clear that Trump has been souring on Priebus for some time – and had been slowly but surely purging the former Republican National Committee chairman’s allies from the White House.
When Priebus was originally hired as chief of staff, the move was regarded as an attempted olive branch to the Washington Republican establishment with whom Trump had openly warred for much of the campaign. Priebus was not only a known commodity in D.C. circles because of his time at the RNC but also a close, personal friend of House Speaker Paul Ryan – a man considered essential to Trump’s chances of enacting his agenda in Washington.
Priebus successfully recruited Spicer and Katie Walsh, two of his deputies at the RNC, into the White House – a further sign, many assumed, that Trump would balance the political outsiders and family members who ran his campaign with some more known commodities in Washington.
Six months later, all of that is out the door with Priebus’ firing functioning as the final nail in the coffin. The only Washington insider remaining in Trump’s inner circle is Kellyanne Conway, a pollster-turned-strategist with close ties to Vice President Mike Pence. Aside from Conway, the Trump inner circle is composed of family (Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner) and political outsiders (Steve Bannon and Scaramucci). Kelly’s appointment as chief of staff is reflective of Trump’s long-running fascination with military men in his upper ranks.
What the staff moves reflect is Trump’s belief, despite constant public proclamations to the contrary, that his first six months in office have been devoid of accomplishments – a lack of successes reflected in poll numbers that are at or below historical lows for a president in his first half-year in office.
What’s clear is that what Trump is doing isn’t working. And what’s equally clear is that Trump believes the reason for that is the poor advice he has received from his veteran Washington hands.
And so, Kelly is in, Priebus is out. Scaramucci is in, Spicer is out. New York – and Trump’s family – is ascendant.
What does that mean for the direction Trump will take in the next six months?
“I think it is very important for us to let him express his personality,” Scaramucci said in his first press conference 7 days ago, adding that his goal would be to free Trump to “express his full identity.”
In short: Trump is going to be allowed to be Trump.
That, of course, is in keeping with what the President himself wants. He is convinced (as most presidents are) that he is the best communicator, strategist, pollster and everything else for himself. He believes that he is best politically when he is allowed to follow his gut instincts wherever they may lead.
The dismissal of Priebus removes the last major impediment to letting Trump follow those instincts at all times. While it’s hard to imagine how Trump could be “more Trumpian” than he has been in the first six months in the White House, you can bet that is exactly what he plans to be going forward.
Trump is free to be Trump. Get ready.