Polished White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and pugnacious chief presidential strategist Steve Bannon took their strained buddy routine to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) on Thursday, reminiscing about Donald Trump’s election victory, promising revolutionary change in Washington, denying their ongoing West Wing power struggle and — naturally — bashing the news media.
Bannon, the rumpled adviser who never tires of calling reporters “the opposition party,” lasted not quite three and a half minutes after their awkward opening handshake before making sure everyone in the room knew that he was the scrappy one and the former Republican National Committee chairman was the softy.
Priebus had just dismissed news reports about their rivalry as all just a big “misconception” and had embarked on a chummy description of their work day just a stumble away from the Oval Office — “we share an office suite together, we’re basically together from 6:30 in the morning until about 11 o’clock at night” — when Bannon cut in.
“I have a little thing called the ‘war room,’ he has a fireplace and nice sofas,” the former leader of far-right Breitbart News declared, to chuckles from the audience.
The two top White House aides have been on a public relations tour of sorts, trying to paper over reports that they have been at war inside the West Wing, resulting in a chaotic first 30 days for the president they profess to serve selflessly. Anonymous White House aides have fed those reports with a steady diet of palace intrigue, gossip and sometimes character assassination attempts. But the reality is that it’s hard to fire your national security adviser for misleading your vice president without at least hinting that all is not well behind the scenes.
And the series of joint interviews that the two senior aides have done suggest that President Trump has grown tired of the turmoil he may have set in motion by picking such vastly different people to help him shoulder the responsibilities of the world’s hardest job.
Slideshow: Scenes from CPAC 2017 >>>
“Reince is doing an amazing job,” Bannon told the Hill by telephone a week ago. “We are executing on President Trump’s agenda in record time. That’s because Reince is getting the job done.”
Priebus, on the same call, declared, “We are a completely united team.”
A week earlier, Bannon began a joint interview with New York magazine by joking that Reince was “giving me my daily back massage.”
At CPAC, they were their usual study in stylistic contrasts. Priebus, a fixture of establishment Republican politics, hair close-cropped, in a tailored suit, a discreet microphone clipped to his tie. Bannon, the insurgent, clutching his hand-held mic like a talk show host, in a black jacket and open-necked black shirt, his graying mane swept back.
They agreed that Trump would make a great president, and that the media was just getting it wrong.
“If you look at the opposition party and how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition and how they are portraying the administration, it’s always wrong,” Bannon said. “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, they are absolutely dead wrong about what’s going on today.”
And, he insisted, “We never had a doubt — Donald Trump never had a doubt — that he was going to win.”
In fact, however, the Friday before Trump’s election, Priebus aides at the RNC — including some now in the West Wing — briefed reporters on what they predicted would be the entrepreneur’s Nov. 8 loss.
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