Bannon, Priebus Regale CPAC With Odd-Couple Rapport
Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon, two of President Trump’s top advisers, sought to project a united front Thursday as they shared the stage at CPAC, the annual conservative meeting near Washington, D.C.
Their unlikely working relationship has become a buddy comedy of intense fascination in Washington — with Priebus, the clean-cut former Republican National Committee chairman and reluctant Trump supporter, currently the president’s chief of staff — and Bannon, the unkempt former Breitbart News chairman and GOP rabble-rouser, now Trump’s chief strategist.
Originally billed as co-equal partners in Trump’s White House, the reality has proved more nuanced, producing an interesting study in contrasts. Priebus has taken on a managerial role, keeping the White House running, while Bannon has established himself as the lead thinker, steering policy for the president.
But as the White House has unevenly sought to establish its footing, their working relationship has sparked endless gossip and anonymously sourced reports — about who’s up, who’s down and who’s really in charge.
“In regard to us two,” Priebus said Thursday, “I think the biggest misconception is everything that you’re reading.”
Priebus likely did not include in that sweeping assessment a recent string of peppy joint interviews with Bannon, each one an opportunity to lovingly rib each other and tout their terrific partnership.
Bannon and Priebus took that show on the road with their Conservative Political Action Conference appearance, a public display of affection where they even looked the part of an odd couple: Priebus wore a crisp navy pinstriped suit with an American flag pin on his lapel; Bannon opted for khakis with a black shirt and blazer, sans tie.
“I love how many collars he wears,” Priebus noted. “Interesting look.”
Their mutual, strategic ribbing has at times taken on the quality of a cheesy sitcom couple — the political equivalent of Bannon nagging Priebus for leaving the cap off his toothpaste, or Priebus scolding Bannon for abandoning dirty dishes in the sink.
But underlying that banter is a more sober objective: to signal a well-oiled, focused and at-ease administration, when a string of controversies has suggested the opposite.
“I think if you look at the opposition party [the media] and how they portray the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and now how they're portraying the administration,” Bannon said, “it's always wrong.”
“Just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the campaign and just like they were dead wrong in the chaos of the transition,” Bannon added, “they are absolutely dead wrong about what's going on today because we have a team that's just grinding it through on what President Donald Trump promised the American people. And the mainstream media better understand something: all of those promises are going to be implemented.”
The stark stylistic and substantive differences between Priebus and Bannon make for an easy narrative of rivalry. But the two men insist that their differences make the relationship stronger, ultimately, in much the same way Trump and the GOP have put aside their reservations to collaborate.
“It the party and the conservative movement are together, similar to Steve and I,” Priebus said, “it can’t be stopped.”
They also obliquely laughed off media reports that Bannon has emerged as a devious shadow president in the administration, pulling the strings with Trump and Priebus.
“Steve, you know, you’re a really likeable guy,” said Matt Schlapp, a lead organizer for CPAC who moderated the discussion. “You should do this more often.”
“He’s not so bad,” Priebus volleyed. “Most of the time.”