Tweeting from Air Force One, President Donald Trump announced Friday afternoon that he is replacing his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus with the current Secretary of Homeland Security and former four-star Marine General John Kelly.
Priebus survived only six months in the White House, and his term was marked by near-constant in-fighting, a barrage of leaks, and the resounding defeat of Trump’s signature legislative goal of healthcare reform.
Rumors of Priebus’ demise had been circulating since the first month of the administration, when reports indicated Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner had grown disillusioned with the former RNC chair.
But the events of the last week appear to have sunk the embattled chief of staff, as Trump brought in a new director of communications and reported Priebus foe Anthony Scaramucci, just as Trump’s healthcare bill died in the Republican-led Senate.
Scaramucci’s arrival last Friday — and the announcement that he would report directly to Trump and not Priebus — also led to the resignation of Press Secretary Sean Spicer, a Priebus ally. It quickly became clear that Priebus was Scaramucci’s next target — in a phone call with a New Yorker reporter on Wednesday night, the new communications director called Priebus “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” And Politico reported that Scaramucci had been telling people Priebus had to go.
Trump and his allies also never fully embraced Priebus in the usually powerful White House role. According to multiple reports, Trump and his allies repeatedly debated Priebus’ loyalty after Priebus, in his role of RNC chair, suggested that Trump consider dropping out of the presidential race over the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape where the candidate bragged of assaulting women.
Even so, it is a remarkably fast fall for Priebus, who has led the party since 2011 and ultimately helped secure Republican control of both the White House and both chambers of Congress. On Election Night in 2016 during his victory speech, Trump gave over his podium to Priebus, calling him an “unbelievable star” and “the hardest-working guy.” Trump said that past reports of disagreements between he and Priebus were false and told the crowd, “I never had a bad second with him.”
For a moment, Priebus seemed poised to become a powerful and irreplaceable force in the new administration. He had been a longtime friend and ally to House Speaker Paul Ryan — a relationship thought critical to getting the president’s legislative agenda through Congress.
But as Trump’s big legislative initiatives face delays and a series of defeats, Priebus’ reputation suffered both inside and outside the White House. As rumors of Priebus’ demise grew stronger in the wake of Scaramucci’s arrival, he found himself without the public support of his party. That radio silence stood in stark contrast to the dozens of Republicans who rallied behind Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week after Trump indicated he might fire him.
Kelly is set to begin his new job on Monday. It’s not yet clear who Trump will appoint to head up the Department of Homeland Security which has tremendous authority over the treatment of undocumented immigrants, but Kelly’s replacement must be confirmed by the Senate.
In a statement, Priebus toed the party line, saying, “I will continue to serve as a strong supporter of the president’s agenda and policies. I can’t think of a better person than General John Kelly to succeed me and I wish him God’s blessings and great success.”
Priebus, whose 189-day-long term as chief of staff was the shortest in modern history, joins the growing ranks of former Trump staffers who have all jumped ship or been forced out within the first six months of the administration: Besides Spicer, the Trump White House has lost former communications director Mike Dubke, former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, and former national security advisor Michael Flynn.