But Priebus was the conduit. By firing him, Trump has severed a critical connection to his own party—not simply to major donors and GOP congressional leaders, but to the unruly, broader constellation of conservative-affiliated organizations and individuals that Priebus had spent five years corralling. He was effortlessly tagged as an “establishment” figure—inevitably, given his title atop the party—but Priebus was a specialist at coalition-building. He convened regular meetings as RNC chairman with influential players in the conservative movement, picking their brains and taking their temperatures on various issues. That continued as chief of staff: Priebus spoke by phone with prominent activists, such as the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, at least once a week. There is a meeting scheduled at the White House this Wednesday of the Conservative Action Project—an umbrella group that brings together leaders from across the right—and Priebus was planning to attend. It was this kind of systematic outreach that made Priebus, whatever his flaws as a West Wing manager, an essential lieutenant for Trump.
There is no question, however, that Priebus’ absence will echo loudest on Capitol Hill—particularly in the speaker’s office. Ryan’s team had heard whispers for months of Priebus’ possible departure, but the news was nonetheless a dagger, especially on the heels of a health care defeat and at the dawn of tax-reform season. Ryan and Priebus, both Green Bay Packers fans and local beer loyalists, have been friends for decades; Ryan’s former chief of staff, Andy Speth, was Priebus’ college roommate at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Priebus was the first call Ryan made when things got hairy this year, and vice versa. Working with a West Wing that contains few other true allies—and with a volatile president who has viewed him suspiciously ever since the speaker accused him of making “the textbook definition of a racist comment” about a Hispanic-American judge—Ryan saw Priebus as his staunchest ally and bunker mate. And now he’s gone.