Donald Trump has tapped Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, to be his White House chief of staff.
What does this say about the nascent Trump administration, other than blue laws not applying to presidential transitions?
Here are four takeaways:
1. Respect. Anyone closely following the election couldn’t miss that Priebus and Trump had a good working relationship – far smoother than the hot mess that was Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and ugly revelations of the Democratic National Committee chairs playing favorites.
Priebus didn’t stack the debate deck against Trump. In early October, after the release of the audiotape that nearly sank Trump’s campaign, Priebus held a 14-minute phone call with RNC members telling them, in effect, not to abandon ship.
Trump also owes Priebus and the RNC for a multi-year ground game that paid dividends last Tuesday.
In must-have Florida, for example, nearly 300,000 Republicans were added to the voter registration rolls since the 2012 election (Trump carried the state by 120,000 votes). Nearly 1,800 paid staff and trained organizers worked the Sunshine State; nearly 6.5 million volunteer voter contacts were made.
Small wonder the two hugged it out on Election Night.
Let’s chalk this up to professional respect – in that regard, little different than the simultaneous hiring of Steve Bannon as White House chief strategist and a soon-to-be announced role for Kellyanne Conway, the latter two key campaign insiders.
2. The Trump Card Is Andy Card. Going back to its modern-day inception during the Truman administration, there hasn’t been a standard-issue White House Chief of Staff.
Bill Clinton brought in a pal from his Arkansas kindergarten days – a Washington outsider from a Fortune 500 gas company whom everyone described as “nice”. Mack McLarty didn’t make it until the first midterm election, replaced by Budget Director Leon Panetta, the ultimate Beltway insider.
Barack Obama’s first chief of staff was Rahm Emanuel – like Panetta a product of Congress, but with an edgy temperament. Obama wanted a bad cop who’d keep a Democratic Congress in line.
If Trump’s choice echoes any recent presidency, it might be the Bush 43 White House.
Andy Card, President George W. Bush’s first chief of staff, was the timekeeper and gatekeeper. He controlled the schedule, oversaw the West Wing’s operations and made sure the trains ran on time. Widely respected around town for his political smarts and his personal integrity, Card lasted on the job for five-plus years (two years is more the norm).
This sounds like Priebus’ job role, with one added responsibility: he’ll be the one making calls to GOP congressional leadership and the extended world of the RNC to keep the troops in line.
3. Not All "Swamp" Creatures Are Alike. To those having a conniption because Trump went with someone who’s a Washington fixture, the choice is a reminder of the reality of life inside the White House: in order to fly the plane, you need someone in the cockpit who’s attended flight school.
Nearly six years as the RNC chair means Priebus knows how to run a political organization, can deal with oversized personalities and is sensitive to Washington’s rhythms.
Just as important: smart national committee chairmen keep their egos in check and do their best to stay out of the news. An effective White House chief of staff operates the same way (John Sununu’s penchant for generating bad headlines was a constant headache in the Bush 41 presidency).
4. A Collective Deep Breath. The choice of Priebus neither guarantees a successful first term nor assures the worst presidency since Harding.
What it is: a smart first step.
Once Trump is through with this first round of inner-circle hires – surrounding himself with much of the same crew that delivered the election – there will another round of appointments. At that point, we’ll find out who’s in charge of policy, communications, congressional relations and legal affairs. We’ll also know more about the various White House fiefdoms – i.e., which deputies have what portfolios.
Stay tuned. There’s never a dull day in the world of Donald Trump – even on Sundays.