President-elect Donald Trump will bring the leading voice of the alt-right with him into the White House as a top strategist, while installing a veteran Republican party apparatchik below him as chief of staff.
Trump’s transition team announced that Stephen Bannon, head of the often-bigoted Breitbart News, would hold the position of “chief strategist and senior counselor,” while appointing Reince Preibus, chairman of the Republican Party Committee, as White House chief of staff.
It is not clear how the two men, described as “equal partners,” will divide their duties. But, in a move bound to worry establishment Republicans and Democrats of all stripes, the Trump transition office announcement put Bannon’s name first, suggesting that he will wield exceptional power in the White House.
Bannon, a bitingly acerbic businessman who became Trump’s top campaign official, often has seemed almost as contemptuous of establishment Republicans as he is of Democrats. His appointment sends a signal of continued indifference toward wide swathes of the population, including women and minorities. His website frequently traffics in the rhetoric of racism, misogyny and anti-semitism, and Bannon is often blamed for encouraging Trump’s divisive instincts.
Traditionally, chief of staff is an enormously powerful job, controlling everything from what information reaches the president to who sees him. It could be that Priebus will have those operational duties, but that Bannon will be closer to the president, akin to the role held by chief strategist Karl Rove during George W. Bush’s presidency.
Priebus, a lawyer who has been in politics since he was a teenager in Wisconsin, will partly mollify establishment Republicans. Yet, though he is a member of the pre-Trump GOP establishment, he does not hail from the party’s traditional wing. In Wisconsin, he came of age among a generation of radically conservative politicians that includes Paul Ryan, the current speaker of the House of Representatives who rose to power with the Tea Party, and Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who helped tip his state, previously a reliable Democratic vote, to Trump.
As the head of the Republican party, Priebus urged Republicans to unify behind the billionaire businessman after Trump’s victory in the Wisconsin primary. It was a move that must have helped win Trump’s trust at time when many party leaders still questioned his fitness for the presidency, in part because of the very rhetoric Bannon applauded.