President Donald Trump’s embattled chief of staff, Reince Priebus, has been keeping an unusually tight grip on the Republican National Committee even while internal turmoil and a stalled legislative agenda have left his full-time job in peril.
Priebus, who led the RNC from 2011 until he assumed the White House job earlier this year, has so far given little autonomy to his successor, Ronna Romney McDaniel, with one senior Republican operative close to the White House saying Priebus’ control over the RNC is “total and complete.”
Priebus wants to be continually updated on fundraising numbers, potential candidates for office and polling numbers, according to one strategist with knowledge of the RNC. He repeatedly asked RNC officials about their strategy and plan for this week’s Georgia special election and often gave input. Republicans won a narrow victory in the deep-red district.
While it’s not out of the ordinary for a White House chief of staff to keep close tabs on the party apparatus, especially when there are acute concerns about midterm elections and as Trump increasingly needs an outside messaging operation to confront growing scandals, Priebus appears to be more heavily involved than his predecessors.
The intense involvement is “surprising,” according to Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a new history of chiefs of staff. “It surprises me because I never saw in my research active chiefs being heavily involved in the RNC,” he said.
What makes the arrangement more unusual is the all-consuming nature of the chief of staff position, and the need for service to the office of the presidency to outweigh other allegiances — sometimes even to the president himself, and certainly to outside political committees.
Priebus has an especially full portfolio in the West Wing, given that Trump and his aides are facing sprawling probes from the special counsel and congressional investigators, while also trying to muscle through a controversial Obamacare repeal bill, a tax reform package and a $1 trillion infrastructure plan.
Two sources close to the RNC also say Priebus’ level of involvement is extraordinary and can be viewed as micro-managing. And it’s stoking speculation that Priebus, whose only other high-profile job was his RNC chairmanship, may be keeping his options open as he endures frequent criticism from Trump, which could intensify if the Senate’s health care push collapses.
“It’s his backup plan,” the senior Republican operative said about a potential return by Priebus to the RNC.