(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump’s choice of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus for White House chief of staff marks his greatest capitulation to the GOP establishment so far and caps a weekend spent watering down some of his boldest promises from the campaign trail.
Taken together, the moves signal that Trump is moving aggressively from campaigning to governing in ways that could disappoint his most ardent supporters, who believed he would “drain the swamp” and overturn a Washington Republican hierarchy that they felt ignored their concerns.
Instead, Trump picked Priebus, the leader of that hierarchy, to be his top aide in the White House. To assuage these fears, Trump created an unusual power-sharing arrangement in the White House between Priebus and former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, a leading figure in the so-called alt-right conservative movement who became the Trump campaign’s chief executive. He will work as chief strategist and senior counselor, Trump announced.
Such shotgun marriages rarely work inside the White House, where each camp must vie for the president’s attention and his ear. Trump made a similar arrangement work during the campaign by bringing in advisers Kellyanne Conway and Bannon, whose different political strategies made for a yin-and-yang approach.
Trump confidants say that Priebus is closer to the president-elect than many outsiders know. Two people close to both Trump and Priebus said that Trump’s skepticism of the party leader gradually wore off last summer, when Priebus worked tirelessly to break apart the “Never Trump” movement ahead of the convention in Cleveland. Trump’s fears of a widespread floor fight among delegates were so strong that he sent former campaign manager Paul Manafort and Priebus to the convention several days ahead of schedule. Trump’s fears proved to be unfounded, and his trust in Priebus grew as the convention went on without significant interruption or threat from delegates opposed to Trump.
Following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape in early October, Priebus was charged with delivering a political reality check to Trump. The billionaire political newcomer was about to face enormous pressure to bow out of the race and let his running mate, Mike Pence, take over. Priebus’ ability to deliver such difficult news to a political figure known for his enormous ego further solidified Trump’s trust in Priebus, these sources said.
Still, the relief on the part of Republican establishment figures was palpable Sunday as news of the Priebus pick spread. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) tweeted that there was “no better person to represent president-elect” than Priebus. Others were angry, such as long-time Trump political ally Roger Stone, who said that the pick would cause a “rebellion” in Trump’s base.
Bannon’s powerful role came in for criticism from those who cited stories published during his tenure at Breitbart News.
“President-elect Trump’s choice of Steve Bannon as his top aide signals that White Supremacists will be represented at the highest levels in Trump’s White House,” Adam Jentleson, deputy chief of staff for outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, said in a statement Sunday.
John Weaver, the former chief strategist for John Kasich’s presidential campaign, also took issue with the pick.
“Just to be clear news media, the next president named a racist, anti-Semite as the co-equal of the chief of staff,” Weaver wrote Sunday on Twitter.
Priebus said Monday that critics weren’t describing the Bannon he knew and that the pair of advisers and the president-elect are “on the same page.”
“I haven’t seen any of these things that people are crying out about, but look, it’s a good team. It works,” Priebus said on Fox News.