Donald Trump’s first key appointment — that of running mate Mike Pence — gave conservatives and others an opportunity to rethink what his approach to governance might be. Pence provided serious gravitas as well as political talent to the ticket and offered a contrast to Trump’s broadly anti-establishment tone. Trump’s first appointments after the election actually offer both, but give Republicans a signal that he’s aiming for a productive relationship up and down Pennsylvania Avenue. My New York Post column this morning puts Reince Priebus’ selection as chief of staff in context of opportunities for rapid action after January 20th:
Donald Trump won election to the presidency by fighting against the political and media establishment. Now that he has the White House, Trump made it clear that he wants to put the establishment to work for him. Sunday, he picked the man who helped deliver not just his election but also a Republican House and Senate to serve as chief of staff — RNC chairman Reince Priebus. …
Priebus has a close friendship with Ryan, both having come up the political ladder in Wisconsin. They both have similar views on the long-term future of the Republican Party as well, and both realize that the GOP has to improve its credibility with voters by delivering on its promises. Having Priebus as chief of staff provides Trump and Ryan an excellent opportunity to coordinate efforts as well as resolve differences on the down-low rather than in the media.
Priebus has a good working relationship with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as well. In fact, both Ryan and McConnell reportedly requested Priebus’ appointment to the position. Trump’s decision not only signals the value he sees in a good working relationship with Congress, but also counts as a chit for Trump to call in with both men when needed.
What about Stephen Bannon? After pointing out on Twitter the positive message that Priebus’ pick sends, a number of people asked me about Trump’s choice of chief political strategist. Bannon had made no secret of his distaste for current GOP leadership, after all, but appointing Priebus seems to signal an end to that fight, at least on Trump’s part — for now, anyway. Instead, Bannon seems more likely to quarterback other political fights against Democrats, and certainly against the media:
Some expected Trump to continue as a disruptor even in office. He pickedchief Stephen Bannon to serve as his chief political strategist. Bannon’s animus toward GOP leadership is no secret, but Priebus’ contacts with Ryan and McConnell will be more direct and oriented to policy. Picking both Bannon and Priebus at the same time hints at a White House willing to go toe-to-toe with the media and play hardball politics with Democrats, while making the most of opportunities with fellow Republicans.
Does this mean Trump will reverse himself on all his previous anti-establishment promises? To paraphrase others, it helps to take Trump seriously rather than literally. Trump is less interested in destroying an establishment than he is in making it work for him rather than against him. That was the lesson with the RNC, too, and a good way to look at the Priebus appointment. If Trump can get what he wants from Ryan and McConnell through Priebus — and they get what they want — why destroy anything?
These two picks offer the prospect of a very busy two years between Trump’s inauguration and his first midterms.
Update: I have gotten some feedback on this perspective, with people insisting that Bannon’s position is coequal with Priebus and sends a mixed message. That’s not really the case, though. The chief of staff runs the White House, and handles the Cabinet and legislative relationships, while a chief political strategist runs the messaging and advises the president. Both are powerful positions, but not of equal impact.