Reince Priebus is never far from Donald Trump’s side.
The outgoing RNC chairman and incoming White House chief of staff often joins Trump when he interviews candidates for his Cabinet in his cozy Trump Tower office. He accompanies Trump at high-level meetings, like their well-publicized dinner with Mitt Romney.
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And he frequently makes jaunts with the president-elect in Trump’s jet, from a victory rally in Priebus’s native Wisconsin to a recent Army-Navy football game.
The consummate D.C. insider, Priebus has not just emerged as Trump’s public liaison to a still-skeptical GOP establishment; the 44-year-old political operative has become a trusted adviser to and staunch defender of the president-elect, even as he competes for power and influence with rivals like Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway who were with Trump from the beginning.
Those who have been in the room with both Trump and Priebus say they wouldn’t describe Priebus as deferential to his new boss. In fact, Priebus appears at ease with Trump. He doesn’t hesitate to interject and offer his opinion, and the two often banter back and forth.
“Trump and Reince have a tremendous rapport with each other,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who observed the two men interact with each other at Trump Tower during his interview for Energy secretary this month.
“Trump’s respect for Reince is very obvious. Reince was never disrespectful, but he never hesitated to jump right in. I was impressed.”
The Wisconsin Republican’s first month as Trump’s chief of staff has been marked by successes, and a few setbacks.
Priebus failed to convince Trump that one of his most vocal critics during the campaign, 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney, should head the State Department.
But Priebus successfully lobbied Trump to name Romney’s niece, Michigan GOP Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel, to succeed Priebus as head of the RNC. Some inside Trump Tower had pushed for an outsider — in the mold of Trump — to lead the massive organization.
If RNC chief strategist and spokesman Sean Spicer wins the job of White House press secretary, that would also be viewed as a victory for Priebus. Spicer is just one of a handful of top RNC staffers Priebus is hoping to bring to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. next month.
Leading the RNC during the campaign, Priebus repeatedly demonstrated his ability to broker a peace between the volatile Trump and the GOP establishment, which usually had the knives out for the Manhattan real estate mogul and reality TV star.
More than a year ago, Priebus made the trek from Washington to Trump Tower to personally plea with the candidate to sign a loyalty pledge that he’d back the GOP nominee — a bid to head off the potential threat of Trump launching an independent bid for president.
When Trump floated a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. a few months later, Priebus said he disagreed but didn’t throw Trump under the bus. And when Trump’s now-infamous “Access Hollywood” tape surfaced and his candidacy appeared on the verge of collapse weeks before Election Day, it was Priebus who fended off calls by party leaders to dump Trump, arguing that doing so would be harmful to down-ballot candidates and put GOP control of Congress at risk.
At times, Priebus has privately grumbled about the constant stream of headaches involved with keeping Trump in line. But overall, he’s been a steadfast and loyal defender of the president-elect.
“Priebus took the lemons and turned it into lemonade,” said one RNC member who has worked with Priebus for years. “Reince Priebus protected Trump from the wrath of the Republican establishment so many times. I’m not sure Trump knew that then; he certainly knows it now.”
Perhaps above all else, Trump values loyalty. And just day after the election, he offered Priebus the chief of staff job — a move that was cheered by the RNC chair’s close friend, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and others in the establishment wing of the party.
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