President-elect Donald Trump announced on Sunday that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus will be his chief of staff and Steve Bannon, his campaign’s chief executive and the former chairman of the conservative website Breitbart News, will serve as his chief strategist and senior counselor. The announcement came in a statement sent out by Trump’s transition team that said the pair would work as “equal partners” in a continuation of “the effective leadership team they formed during the campaign.” Bannon received top billing in the campaign’s announcement.
Late last week, the New York Times reported that Trump’s choice for chief of staff had been whittled down to Priebus and Bannon. Both Priebus and Bannon traveled with Trump during the final weeks of his grueling campaign.
The chief of staff traditionally sets the tone in the White House, acts as gatekeeper to the Oval Office and is typically the first and last person the president talks to each day. The chief of staff also acts as a go-between for the president and Capitol Hill. And Priebus, who has close ties with House Speaker Paul Ryan, a fellow Wisconsinite, as well as other GOP leaders, would be a logical choice to help bridge the gap between Team Trump and a wary Republican establishment while helping shepherd the president-elect’s agenda through Congress.
And Priebus, 44, who had a more public role in Trump’s campaign, would be a familiar face in and around Washington.
“Reince, he’s good on TV,” one Trump campaign source told Yahoo News. “Steve, I don’t know if he’s ever done that.”
While the chief of staff isn’t necessarily someone who spends a lot of time doing television hits, the source said this could change with Trump’s “unconventional” approach.
But it was Bannon who crafted the messaging and strategy that propelled Trump’s stunning victory.
“I mean, the guy clearly knows how to get things going, how to get a message going, and how to push that and layer it so those things are going to take root,” the source said, adding: “That’s something people are going to like. I mean, clearly, that’s how he’s built Breitbart and how he acts on the morning calls for the campaign. When we’re talking about messages, he’ll say, ‘Let’s jump on this story. … Let’s start talking about this. It’s going to be huge and we’ve got to go big on it.’”
The 62-year-old Bannon assumed the role as head of Trump’s campaign in August in a shakeup that was criticized by both Democrats and Republicans because of Breitbart’s far-right worldview. He took a leave from his role at the news site to join the campaign.
Hillary Clinton tried to use Bannon’s hiring to tie Trump to the so-called alt-right — a fringe movement marked by white nationalism and racist undertones — that Breitbart News frequently championed. In speeches and on social media, Clinton and her campaign highlighted some of Breitbart’s more controversial headlines.
Trump hired the head of Breitbart "News" to be CEO of his campaign. Here's a sample of their work: pic.twitter.com/y8loOnkbNu
— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) August 25, 2016
“Donald Trump has filled his campaign on prejudice and paranoia,” Clinton said at a rally in August. “He is taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over the Republican Party.”
On CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was a frequent target of Bannon’s Breitbart, said he had “no concerns” over Bannon as chief of staff,
“I’ve never met the guy,” Ryan said. “I don’t know Steve Bannon, so I have no concerns. I trust Donald’s judgment.”
Bannon, though, has some baggage beyond Brietbart. In 1996, Bannon was charged with misdemeanor domestic violence, battery and dissuading a witness after an incident where his ex-wife claimed he grabbed her neck and wrist during a fight. The case was subsequently dismissed. The source fretted that it would be “unfortunate” if Bannon’s past and the controversial nature of his site proved to be liabilities for the nascent Trump administration.
The source also suggested that, in person, Bannon, who made much of his fortune on royalties from the television show “Seinfeld,” can be somewhat insensitive. To illustrate their point, the source described being somewhat disturbed by comments Bannon made during their initial encounter.
“In my first conversation with him, he was talking about how Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David are brilliant business people, like complimenting Jews for their business sense,” the source said with a sigh.
While Priebus might’ve been the safer choice for Trump, he won’t be welcomed by all members of the Republican Party.
On Saturday, the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund said a “Washington insider” like Priebus would run counter to Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp.”
“No Washington insider, regardless of who it is, should serve as President Trump’s chief of staff,” Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of TPPCF, told CNN in a statement. “Appointing Reince Priebus (or any other DC establishment insider) would make it more difficult, not less, for President Trump to achieve the change the people voted for. It’s time to drain the swamp — not promote insiders beholden to the Washington establishment who helped create it.”
Trump’s transition team spent most of the weekend huddled inside Trump Tower in New York City, working on the daunting task of picking a Cabinet and filling out the nearly 4,000 posts that will make up his administration.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Conway called Bannon “the general” of the campaign, noting that his resume includes more than just Breitbart News. “He is much more the Goldman Sachs managing partner and much more the naval officer, I think, than people realize,” Conway said. “That’s a big part of his background.”
Conway also said that whoever was chosen as Trump’s chief of staff, both Preibus and Bannon are going to play key roles in the West Wing.
“They’ll both have big roles in a Trump administration in my view,” she said. “As well as they should. I mean, it was a very small-core senior team. Probably less than 10 people all, all told. And I’m sure that everyone will be very important to the president moving forward.”
Still, our source expressed doubts any of the current leaders of the campaign would be well suited for a managerial job.
“They never managed people,” the source said. “Like on election night, nobody knew where they were going the next day.”
This post was updated at 4:36 p.m. with the official announcement from the president-elect’s transition team.