the national interest

Reince Priebus: Requiem for a Minion

Reince Priebus. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Of all the sackings that have come and have yet to come in the Trump administration, Reince Priebus’s was the most inevitable. Priebus was an inept outsider in an impossible job, the immovable object–irresistible force experiment in reverse: a chief of staff who could not control any presidency, managing a president who could not be controlled by any chief of staff.

The Priebus sacking bore many of the hallmarks of previous Trump sackings. There were the now-requisite leaked details depicting the sacked official at his most humiliated and Veep-like. We saw Chris Christie fetching McDonalds for Trump and Sean Spicer at dusk lugging a stolen mini-fridge across the White House lawn. Now, the Washington Post reveals Trump ordered Priebus to kill a fly. (“As the fly continued to circle, Trump summoned his chief of staff and tasked him with killing the insect, according to someone familiar with the incident.”)

Priebus was apparently the most frequent target of Trump’s habitual bullying. The president “told associates that Priebus would make a good car salesman” and “mocked him for expressing excitement when he spotted his house from Air Force One, flying over Wisconsin,” reports Politico.

But perhaps the most telling details, from the same Post story, is that Trump always distrusted Priebus because Priebus recoiled from the revelation of Trump boasting on tape about sexual assault:

Trump had long questioned the depth of Priebus’ loyalty, often remarking about how last October Priebus encouraged Trump to drop out of the presidential race after The Washington Post published a video of Trump bragging about sexual harassment in a 2005 “Access Hollywood” interview. The senior official described Priebus’ counsel that day as “a stain he was never going to remove. The scarlet ‘A.H.’”

Yes, there was a man in the Trump administration who bore a permanent moral taint from Trump’s boasts of sexual assault, and that man is … Reince Priebus.

Priebus’s replacement, John Kelly, is more appealing to the president because he is a general and is untainted by having recorded any doubts about the viability of a candidate who grabs women by their genitals. Another article notes approvingly, “He won’t suffer idiots and fools,” which might be a problem, since the president is both.

The anecdote about Priebus being ordered to kill a fly does not reveal whether he succeeded. (Priebus being Priebus, the safe bet would be that the fly survived.) The incident does recall a famous episode of Breaking Bad, in which Walt becomes obsessed with killing a fly in his lab, with the fly representing his own moral contamination. In Priebus’s case, the fly represents the opposite: the tiny bit of moral clarity that ultimately condemned him. The one decent moment working for Trump in Priebus’s career set him irrevocably on a course for his demise.

Reince Priebus: Requiem for a Minion