Before he ran for president Donald Trump was never a traditional Republican, and today the divide between the White House he’s running and the party that elected him widened even further.
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), will be replaced by John Kelly, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, Trump announced on Twitter in the late afternoon. It’s the latest high-profile departure for a White House staffer from the RNC, the party’s money-raising and organizational group that Trump clashed with during the campaign.
The party had split with Trump on another flank earlier the same day. Republican senator John McCain cast a deciding vote to block the attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. The move was widely interpreted in Washington as a rebuke of Trump. His vote followed threats by Trump to other Republican senators who had publicly opposed the bill.
Some Republicans in Congress blamed Trump, not McCain, for the bill’s failure. “I think the president never really laid out core principles and didn’t sell them to the American people,” said Charlie Dent, the Pennsylvania representative who chairs the moderate “Tuesday Group” of Republicans. Some Republican strategists went as far as to call Trump a “dead weight” (paywall) on the party.
Priebus is the third former member of the RNC to be ousted in the past week. He follows in the footsteps of press secretary Sean Spicer—who was replaced by Anthony Scaramucci, a New York hedge fund manager and former donor to president Barack Obama—and assistant press secretary Michael Short. Lindsay Walters, a former RNC spokeswoman, is its most senior former member still in the White House, although vice president Mike Pence still enjoy’s the party’s full support.
Trump and top RNC officials, including Priebus, clashed on the campaign trail when party officials worried his unorthodox style and controversial statements about women and minorities would hurt other Republican candidates for Congress or governorships. Priebus was reportedly on the brink of being fired for much of his time in the White House, because Trump doubted his support.
Still, in May Priebus had participated in a televised cabinet meeting in which members of Trump’s team praised him in turn. “On behalf the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people,” he said.
(Subtitles on the official White House video just identify him as “Male Speaker.”)