Want a glimpse into the inner workings of President Donald Trump's mind? Try a secret my family learned from 80 years of working with America's leaders from both parties -- look carefully at his Chief of Staff. We've seen time-and-again, in nearly every case, that if the chief of staff is a fine person, the same holds true for the politician. Our country's leaders tend to hire themselves as their chiefs of staff.
This trait was clearly visible with Richard Nixon's less-than-public-service oriented H.R. Haldeman and apparent once more with George W. Bush's amicable Andrew Card. Of course, at times, there are deviations from this rule, particularly with multifaceted presidential personalities. Ronald Reagan had both no-nonsense Secretary James Baker and universally loved Senator Howard Baker. Barack Obama had audacious Rahm Emanuel and also supremely personable Denis McDonough.
So what does President Trump's choice for White House Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus, tell us? Priebus' extraordinary success in Washington as Chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC) came through a conventional approach, and this suggests that Trump may run the White House in a far more universally accepted fashion than he did his campaign. If Mitt Romney or Jeb Bush had won the presidency and hired Priebus, it would have been lauded as a "major catch."
Those who are concerned about a Trump Presidency may be pleased to learn of Priebus' deep human decency. He refers daily to three books on a podium next to his desk - his party's national platform, the Bible and his faith's (Greek Orthodoxy) Divine Liturgy. The leader of Priebus' faith, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of America, was the highest-ranking religious leader in America with the courage to answer the call of Martin Luther King during his march in Selma, Alabama. During World War II, the Greek Orthodox Church in Greece was unsurpassed in its public opposition to the Holocaust in the midst of the Nazi occupation.
As Chairman, Priebus greatly modernized the RNC. He dramatically expanded the party's appeal among the growing demographic of minorities as well as with women and young people. He took the RNC out of the crippling debt he inherited and set fundraising records. While following conventional political strategies, he simultaneously brought in cutting-edge technology stewarded by the establishment of an office in Silicon Valley. Many aspects of his chairmanship even exceeded friends who previously held that position and went on to become Washington giants - like US Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole and former President George H.W. Bush.
There is another important quality that Priebus possesses that has been tragically missing in Washington policymaking for some time. It is a quality that enabled Dole, H.W. Bush and their Democratic peers to make Washington function quite well. Priebus' decades long Wisconsin friend, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, highlighted the quality as he opened the 115th Congress. Ryan said, "If I had to sum up my approach, it would be, 'Agreement whenever possible, but at all times respect'.'' Does the Priebus selection suggest that Trump, contrary to the impression left with many by his campaign, understands that in the field of policymaking, respect for one's opponent is essential to progress?
Seeing someone come to Washington with such extraordinary integrity, perspective and effectiveness moved us to write about Priebus more than once over the years that we have known him. His heritage seems to have blessed him with legendary Greek philotimo (doing the right thing) as well as German efficiency. His ability to handle the intoxication of Washington's power and prestige leaves little doubt in our minds that if this new Administration were to somehow move in dangerous directions, as some fear, Priebus would take a stand.
As our country continues to charge through this profoundly dangerous, high-stakes period in history, tens-of-millions in America and hundreds-of-millions around the world wonder about a President Trump, about whom they really know very little. Perhaps Trump has followed the pattern of his predecessors and hired himself as his chief of staff. And perhaps Trump possesses among his characteristics these admirable qualities of Priebus. Time will tell.