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Here's who Trump needs to fire next in White House shake-up

  • The White House needs a staff shakeup, starting with Reince Priebus.
  • Priebus was the wrong choice from the start, based on his experience.
  • Trump needs someone who understands him and presidential messaging.
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus walk down the West Wing Colonnade following a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC.
Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer (L) and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus walk down the West Wing Colonnade following a bilateral meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe February 10, 2017 in Washington, DC.

The Trump administration is definitely dealing with an historic amount of political, media, and cultural opposition. While some of that opposition is unfair, it has clearly brought some of it upon itself.

That leads us to the latest reports that the Trump White House is about to undergo a major shakeup. Well, the first person who needs to go is Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

In a big picture sense, there's good case to replace Priebus simply because any chief of staff has to take ultimate responsibility for the key failures in the staff he or she has assembled. Priebus brought in White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who has fumbled regularly, offering muddled and contradictory messages and exacerbating the testy relationship between President Trump and the news media. Few could consider that hire a success.

But beyond bringing in bad personnel, Priebus himself is the wrong guy for the job. And that should have been clear from the very start.

It appears the main reason Priebus got the job was to facilitate the sometimes uneasy relationship between President Trump and the establishment Republican Party that controls Congress.

To be sure, it made sense to bring in someone to run the White House staff with an understanding of the Washington establishment. But it did not make sense to bring in someone like then-Republican National Committee chairman Priebus, who was part and parcel of that establishment.

He was a fish out of water with all things Trump even before the candidate became the GOP nominee. Back in 2015, Priebus came under intense criticism for his handling of the Republican debate process. Many detractors, led by conservative talk radio host Mark Levin, excoriated Priebus for losing control of the debate process to the media outlets that aired them.

"Whether the biggest problem is that Priebus comes from the establishment or because he's just not used to playing any role other than leading an opposition, it's past time for him to go."

Based on what we've seen so far, it doesn't seem like Priebus gets it even now. It should be obvious that President Trump was elected by a block of voters who wanted nothing to do with established Washington and urged Trump to quickly "drain the swamp."

Priebus is a card-carrying member of that "swamp" who helped lead a Republican re-taking of Congress in 2010 and 2014 when he was head of the RNC. But remember, when the GOP won the House in 2010 and then the Senate in 2014, the Republican Party failed to make any of its goals clear beyond opposing President Obama. Now Priebus is in charge of the White House, not in opposition to it, and he doesn't seem at ease in that job.

The result is the very "swamp-like" and slow process that has dominated efforts to craft and pass the GOP Obamacare replacement bill. It often seems that the main goal of the process is to keep certain aspects hidden from the public.

The tax reform efforts, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, seem similarly byzantine and slow. This hasn't just angered the "drain the swamp" types, but also more established conservatives who don't understand the delays and lack of clear messaging on the plan.

In the end, it really does come down to messaging. All presidents have the world's eyes on them at all times, but President Trump takes that to new highs with the media uber-focused on him, and with his own Twitter bully pulpit that he can use at any time. When he makes short and clear statements, it works even without clear policy in place. There's solid proof of this on key issues like the economy and immigration.

Without his promised wall even started, illegal immigration has plummeted by 76 percent since the election. And consumer confidence seems to be rising along with Trump's blustery and optimistic talk.

The problem is, President Trump's and his administration's messaging on just about everything else hasn't been nearly as clear or consistent. From the health care bill, to the tax reform bill, to the Saudi feud with Qatar, the Trump White House has been sending plenty of mixed messages.

It may not be Priebus' personal fault that he can't control or at least pare the number of tweets President Trump sends out at any time. But that's the point. It's not about assigning blame but recognizing that if there is such a person who could control President Trump's tweeting, it's not Priebus. He bears professional, if not personal, responsibility.

President Trump needs to replace him with someone who not only understands the Trump phenomenon, but also understands the power of clear and consistent messaging.

It may be hard to believe, but that person does exist. A handful of President Trump's contacts and colleagues from Wall Street and reality TV could step in, including "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" creator Mark Burnett who overcame his public statements opposing Trump's candidacy to join in the president's inaugural planning efforts.

Even the embattled Anthony Scaramucci, who more closely embodies President Trump's combative outsider persona, could be a better fit here.

If Priebus is pushed out of the White House, he needn't leave Washington altogether. He could go back to helping the Congressional Republicans find their footing after getting essentially overshadowed by Trump and almost ousted from power by the Democrats in November.

With the 2018 election looming, Priebus might be more useful protecting the House GOP majority and going after Democratic Senators up for re-election in states that went for President Trump in 2016.

But whether it's essentially his fault or not, Priebus just isn't able to get the job done at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Trump's election was indeed a revolution and the revolution cannot be managed by an establishment figure like Reince Priebus.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.