Since taking office, President Trump has shown a flair for humiliating members of his administration when they have fallen out of favor, and particularly when they are on their way out the door. That’s now true of Reince Priebus, who left his post as the Republican National Committee to join the Trump administration as Chief of Staff only to be ousted this week in favor of General John Kelly. Though his relationship with Donald Trump was contentious from the start of the President’s political career, Priebus had hoped to make inroads with the Commander in Chief. In the end Priebus was shooed away like an unwanted pest— a simile hammered home by some of the purile jobs he was tasked with despite his high-ranking position.
In April of last year, Reuters reported that Priebus was so keyed up by the volatile Trump campaign he spent more and more time seeking solace in piano music, his favorite form of stress relief. The headline “Donald Trump’s Unlikely Villain: Piano-Playing Reince Priebus” called to mind an almost operatic figure, perhaps wearing a cape and playing by light of a sinister candelabra. After Trump’s election, Priebus’ role in turned into what Politico called “an operatic six months” in the White House “during which Priebus was sidelined from the outset.” Priebus was perpetually blamed for the administration’s numerous leaks and the complete traffic jam that mired most of the President’s agenda.
Priebus desperately tried to stay on top of a mounting sense of his own failure. Observers said he would “literally sprint” from room to room of the White House to avoid being left out of a single discussion. He would hover nervously around the President, and desperately trying to counter complaints about his performance. But the harder Priebus tried, the more President Trump dug into him. Trump’s insults included comparing the Chief of Staff to a car salesman and making fun of his delight at being able to see his Wisconsin home from Air Force One during a flight. Trump even demeaned Priebus when he summoned him to the Oval Office, not to participate in a meeting, but instead to kill a distracting fly:
At one point, during a meeting in the Oval Office, a fly began buzzing overhead, distracting the president. 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. (The West Wing has a regular fly problem.)
Those closest to Trump’s ear, from new communications director Anthony Scaramucci to the president’s family all urged him to cut Priebus loose. But first the administration shook Priebus with a campaign of humiliation more vicious than anything the media could dish out. The Washington Post spoke to an anonymous White House staffer who described the recent atmosphere:
“It reached a fever pitch of the president complaining about Reince to all of us. If we heard it once, we heard it 20 times in the last week — this erosion of confidence. The word was ‘weak’ — ‘weak,’ ‘weak,’ ‘weak.’ ‘Can’t get it done.’”
Thus it should have been no surprise to Priebus when he was given the same treatment. His own aides stopped attending the meetings he called, and upper level White House staff stopped including Priebus in important huddles about high-level issues like the health care vote. It’s not clear yet what his next move will be or where he’ll continue his political career. But perhaps he can return to the simpler things for now, and mellow out from his intense White House tenure at the keyboard of his beloved piano.