By Steve Holland
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s White House victory puts a spotlight on Reince Priebus, an establishment Republican figure who emerged as a trusted adviser to the New York businessman and helped encourage discipline in the campaign’s final weeks.
Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, has been mentioned as a contender for chief of staff.
In a pre-election interview, Priebus told Reuters that Trump won over voters who were frustrated with Washington and its politicians.
“They viewed Donald Trump as the antidote to so many things that they’re frustrated with, whether it be Washington, whether it be their job, whether it be what they were promised, and all sorts of things in life, and how it wasn’t delivered,” he said. “And Trump was the antidote to all of those feelings.”
Trump’s victory was a vindication for Priebus, who refused to bow to pressure to distance the party apparatus from him. He talked to Trump almost every day, sometimes more than once a day, and frequently travelled with the candidate. He helped prepare him for Trump’s debates against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump made clear his high regard for Priebus when he invited him on stage during his victory speech early Wednesday morning and asked him to say a few words.
Comparing Priebus to the race horse Secretariat, Trump said, “I tell you Reince is really a star and he is the hardest-working guy.”
Henry Barbour, an RNC member from Mississippi, said Priebus had “developed a position of trust” with Trump.
“He had regular conversations with Trump about different ideas and not surprisingly some ideas Trump had were probably not the greatest and Reince kind of talked him off some of those cliffs,” he said.
Once Trump vanquished 16 seasoned politicians to win the Republican presidential nomination, Priebus threw the weight of the RNC behind Trump and built a voter turnout effort that paid off despite Trump’s refusal to invest more money in it.
“He has been a prodigious fundraiser. He invested heavily in bringing our data and analytics up to speed, and he put the full resources of the RNC to help build out the Trump campaign,” said Steve Duprey, a prominent Republican from New Hampshire.
“And he helped coach Donald Trump in how to be a presidential candidate.”
Trump’s unpredictable nature and views on issues such as trade that break with Republican party orthodoxy have led to rifts with many establishment figures in the party.
But Priebus told Reuters that his staunch support for Trump was based on the fact that Trump won more Republican votes than any previous nominee, 14.5 million.
“These are the same people who say the party is irrelevant and in the next breath they say that the party ought to single-handedly nullify the wishes of 14.5 million people,” he said.
If Trump had lost, Priebus would have faced pressure to step down as party chairman, since he also presided over the loss of Mitt Romney in 2012. He remains extremely popular among the 168 elected members of the RNC who would most likely re-elect him.
Priebus is being talked about for re-election at the RNC or possibly being appointed by Trump to serve as his White House chief of staff, where he may be a potential conduit between Trump and Paul Ryan, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Both Priebus and Ryan hail from Wisconsin and are friends.
“We hope Priebus goes into the Trump White House in a senior position,” said Scott Reed, a prominent Republican strategist in Washington.
Asked whether he would seek re-election as RNC chairman, Priebus said he did not yet know.
“I’ve honestly put that in a box and decided that I would deal with it Wednesday or Thursday, kind of think about it a little bit, kind of see where things are at,” he said.
(Editing by Caren Bohan and Mary Milliken)