Donald Trump’s choice of RNC chairman Reince Priebus for chief of staff marks his greatest capitulation to the Republican establishment so far and caps a weekend spent watering down some of his boldest promises from the campaign trail.
Taken together, the moves signal that Trump is moving aggressively from campaigning to governing in ways that could disappoint his most ardent supporters who believed he would “drain the swamp” and overturn a Washington Republican hierarchy that they felt ignored their concerns.
Instead, Trump picked Priebus, the leader of that hierarchy, to be his top aide in the White House. To assuage these fears, Trump created an unusual power sharing arrangement in the White House between Priebus and former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, a leading figure in the so-called alt-right conservative movement who became the Trump campaign’s chief executive, who also will work alongside Trump as a “senior adviser.”
Such shotgun marriages rarely work inside the White House, where each camp must vie for the president’s attention and his ear. Trump made a similar arrangement work during the campaign by bringing in advisers Kellyanne Conway and Bannon, whose different political strategies made for a yin and yang approach.
Trump confidants say that Priebus is closer to the president-elect than many outsiders know. Two people close to both Trump and Priebus said that Trump’s skepticism of the party leader gradually wore off last summer, when Priebus worked tirelessly to break apart the “Never Trump” movement ahead of the convention in Cleveland. Trump’s fears of a widespread floor fight among delegates were so strong that he sent former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Priebus to the convention several days ahead of schedule. Trump’s fears proved to be unfounded, and his trust in Priebus grew as the convention went on without significant interruption or threat from delegates opposed to Trump.
Following the release of the Access Hollywood tape in early October, Priebus was charged with delivering a political reality check to Trump. The billionaire political newcomer was about to face enormous pressure to bow out of the race and let his running mate, Mike Pence, take over. Priebus’ ability to deliver such difficult news to a political figure known for his enormous ego further solidified Trump’s trust in Priebus, these officials said.
Still, the relief on the part of Republican establishment figures was palpable Sunday as news of the Priebus pick spread. Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted that there was “no better person to represent president-elect” than Priebus. Others were angry, such as long-time Trump political ally Roger Stone, who said that the pick would cause a “rebellion” in Trump’s base.
Bannon’s powerful role came also came in for criticism from those who cited stories published during his tenure at Breitbart News.
“President-elect Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that White Supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump’s White House,” Adam Jentleson, deputy chief of staff for Senator Harry Reid, said in a statement Sunday.
John Weaver, the former chief strategist for John Kasich’s presidential campaign, also took issue with the pick.
“Just to be clear news media, the next president named a racist, anti-Semite as the co-equal of the chief of staff,” Weaver wrote Sunday on Twitter.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who may also be offered a position in Trump’s cabinet, rose to defend Bannon.
“Steve Bannon is a naval officer, he was a managing partner at Goldman Sachs, he was a Hollywood movie producer,” Gingrich said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “The idea that somehow he represents, and I had never heard of the alt-right until the nut cakes started writing about it.”
The selection of Priebus capped a weekend that saw anti-Trump protests swell in cities across the country. Thousands of people dismayed by the election results took to the streets in places like New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., Cincinnati, Miami, Orlando, and Boston. The discord comes as Hillary Clinton widened her popular vote lead over Trump. While millions of votes remain to be counted, they will not overturn the electoral college tally.
Trump made headlines this weekend by appearing to moderate some of his most controversial campaign promises. He said in an interview with CBS News’ 60 Minutes on Sunday that he would keep intact certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. In particular, he said he’d likely keep the portion of the law which kept coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and allowing Americans under the age of 26 to stay on their parents’ plans. “It happens to be one of the strongest assets. It adds cost, but it’s very much something we’re gonna try and keep,” he said.
Trump also signalled that he will not look to repeal all of Dodd-Frank, telling CBS that he’d rather focus on trying to provide regulatory relief while still attempting to hold financial institutions accountable for risky businesses.
And as for construction of a border wall with Mexico? Trump told CBS that, in some places, a fence would suffice. “For certain areas I would, but certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this, it’s called construction,” he told CBS.
Pressed on the inclusion of corporate lobbyists on his own transition team, despite his own vows to address what he portrayed as the corrupting influence of money in politics, Trump asked for patience.
“We’re doing a lot of things to clean up the system,” Trump said. “But everybody that works for government, they then leave government and they become a lobbyist, essentially. I mean, the whole place is one big lobbyist.”
One campaign pledge that seems to be holding firm is Trump’s vow to deport undocumented immigrants who have a criminal record.
“What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we have a lot of these people, probably two million, it could be even three million, we are getting them out of our country or we are going to incarcerate,” Trump said. “But we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.” Bloomberg