A stalwart of the Republican political machine, Reince Priebus is at first glance not a likely ally for Donald Trump. But whether or not the President-elect wanted him as chief of staff, it seems that he needs him.
After the Republican defeat of 2012, it was Priebus, the chair of the party’s national committee, who was tasked with working out what had gone wrong. The strategy he drew up was, at the time, a textbook bid to win over demographics supporting Democrats. In 2013, he told fellow Republicans: “If you’re not engaging with the Hispanic community, you better get to work.”
But when Trump, a man who would brand Mexicans “rapists”, decided to enter the Republican primaries, a curious dynamic emerged. As a staffer from a rival campaign put it to Politico: “Every time Trump would do something dumb, Reince would be up in New York shining his shoes.”
In public, Trump railed against the “weak” Republican National Congress. In private, he spoke regularly to Priebus.
Meanwhile, Priebus condemned footage that emerged showing Trump boasting of groping women, and criticised his attack on a Muslim family whose son had died while serving in the military.
A backroom peacemaker, Priebus might have been following his instincts when he smoothed the way for Trump. But as the celebrity businessman’s star has risen, Priebus has found his reputation increasingly entangled with that of someone he cannot fully control.
Meanwhile, for Trump, Priebus provides a link to the wider Republican party, in which the President-elect is still something of a stranger. Indeed, many traditional Republicans suspect Trump of being an usurper, with one telling the Daily Beast that Priebus would have “the skunk’s stink on him” for allying with such a controversial nominee.
In his new role, Priebus finds himself serving alongside Stephen Bannon, an alt-right figure associated with white nationalism who thrives on anti-establishment rhetoric. The peace may not last forever.