Donald Trump is sweeping the political and party professionals out of his White House after seven months of legislative failure that has infuriated the president and frustrated his supporters.
The latest victim was Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the former Republican National Committee chairman whose allies throughout the GOP spent months defending his handling of the 2016 contest and then his service at the White House.
That makes three Republican Party insiders now out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in just a week — Sean Spicer said he was leaving his post as press secretary after a tumultuous period that saw him ridiculed on comedy shows and then sidelined by the president, and assistant press secretary Michael Short resigned after hearing he would be fired.
Now, after Trump communication director Anthony Scaramucci told a reporter he was prepared to fire everyone in the press shop, White House aides who are more closely associated with the party than with Trump world are worried about who is next.
“Everyone who is an RNC staffer assumes their number may be up,” said a Republican with close ties to the White House. “Everyone’s seen the writing on the wall. You can see what’s coming.”
There are at least two dozens RNC staffers in the executive office of the president, working in communications, research and scheduling.
Republican insiders said they expect Trump to bring his campaign team into the White House now. Two people close to Trump who are widely expected to be hired: Corey Lewandowski, former campaign manager, and David Bossie, former deputy campaign manager.
“Team Trump is ready for service. They are excited about this new direction,” said a former Trump campaign staffer with close ties to the White House.
Trump tweeted Friday evening that Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly would take over as chief of staff. “I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American.”
Since Inauguration Day, the Trump White House has lost a chief of staff, deputy chief of staff, national security adviser, FBI director, communications director and press secretary, director office of government ethics, acting attorney general and special assistant to the president in charge of surrogate operations.
Priebus was never a Trump insider. At one point during the campaign, he encouraged Trump to get out of the race after a recording surfaced of Trump talking about groping women. The president never had any intention of doing so.
When Trump gave him the top job in the White House, it was seen in Republican circles as a sign that the president realized he needed the assistance of a political professional to set up the organization. But the relationship began to unravel as Trump became embroiled in the Russia scandal and began to question the communication strategy, led by Priebus loyalist Spicer.
The problems hit the tipping point when Trump brought on Scaramucci as communications director despite having no communications experience. Priebus had fought the hiring.
Some speculated that Scaramucci was being groomed to take over for Priebus after Trump made it clear that he would not be reporting to the chief of staff, as is the tradition. Instead, Trump turned to Kelly, reflecting his affinity for generals.
As Homeland Security secretary, Kelly was tasked with protecting U.S. borders and overseeing immigration policies, two centerpieces of Trump’s presidential campaign.
Trump appeared to foreshadow the announcement earlier Friday during a speech to law enforcement officals. “One of our real stars,” Trump said. “Truly, one of our stars. John Kelly is one of our great stars. You know, the border is down 78 percent. Under past administrations, the border didn’t go down — it went up.”
Priebus remains beloved within the ranks of the Republican National Committee — and his presence in the White House was reassuring to some who privately harbor concerns about the administration. Trump’s abrupt announcement Friday afternoon came as a shock to current and former members.
“Unbelievable,” said former New Hampshire GOP Chair Jennifer Horn as she processed the news. She went on to add: “In a White House that has been rife with chaos and upheaval on what seems like a daily basis, Reince was a much-needed, clear-headed, experienced leader. This is a great loss for the president whether he realizes it or not.”
As the news broke, current and former RNC members traded texts expressing sadness, disappointment, disbelief, and the feeling that “he deserved better,” said one senior RNC member.
“It concerns me because he is somebody who has a terrific relationship with the party infrastructure, he knows the levers of the party but also has a great relationship with the leadership in Congress,” said this source, granted anonymity in order to speak freely. “I have tremendous respect for his successor, but it’s ultimately a political position. When you lose that component, I’m just concerned about being able to get [the Republican] agenda done, particularly when there’s so much going on staff-wise.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who, like Priebus, is from Wisconsin, issued a statement that gushed praise on Preibus, but was guarded about Kelly.
Priebus “has left it all out on the field, for our party and our country,” Ryan said. He praised what he said was a “guy from Kenosha, Wisc. who revitalized the Republican National Committee and became White House chief of staff.
“He has served the president and the American people capably and passionately,” Ryan said. “He has achieved so much, and he has done it all with class. I could not be more proud to call Reince a dear friend.”
It was a dramatic exit for Priebus who was in Trump’s motorcade when the announcement was made.
As word spread about Priebus’ dismissal, some reporters got up close to Priebus’ car.
Priebus’ car then pulled aside and broke off from the motorcade.
Katie Glueck, Lesley Clark and Vera Bergengruen contributed reporting.