White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon appeared onstage together Thursday to jointly insist that everything is running smoothly in the nascent Trump administration –including their relationship, which has been the subject of much speculation.
Despite several weeks of often-rough headlines for the administration and rampant chatter about tensions between Bannon and Priebus, the two men sought to project unity during an appearance together here at the Conservative Political Action Conference, held at a cavernous hotel and conference center right outside of Washington, D.C.
They often found common ground, during their 25-minute panel, in their open distaste for the media.
“In regard to us two, the biggest misconception is everything you’re reading,” Priebus said. “We share an office suite together, we’re basically together from 6:30 in the morning until about 11:00 at night.”
“If you look at the opposition party,” Bannon said, appearing to refer to the media, “how they portrayed the campaign, how they portrayed the transition, how they’re portraying the administration, it’s always wrong.”
Bannon is the former chairman of Breitbart News, a hard-right website that Bannon himself once described as the “platform for the alt-right,” a white nationalist movement.
Meanwhile, Priebus is the former chairman of the Republican National Committee. The two come from vastly different backgrounds and perspectives on the way Washington works, leading both supporters and detractors of President Donald Trump to fret over the extent to which rival power centers have emerged in the White House.
But the pair took pains to demonstrate affection for each other Thursday, with Priebus lightly poking fun at Bannon’s outfit – khakis and a collared shirt, in stark contrast to Priebus’s suit and tie – and Bannon interjecting with anecdotes about how closely the pair works together.
Yet their different worldviews were clearly on display.
American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp, who was moderating the panel, asked the pair what the press was missing about the Trump phenomenon, and whether in their view, there was hope for improvement.
Priebus – whose own RNC was privately pessimistic about Trump’s chances days before the election – said he believed the press coverage might get better.
“I think there’s hope it’s going to change,” Priebus said. “We sit here every day, the president pumps out all this work, executive orders ... we’re hoping the media will catch up eventually.”
After hearing out Priebus, Bannon remarked, “the reason Reince and I are good partners is because we can disagree.”
“Not only is it not going to get better, it’s going to get worse every day,” Bannon said. “They’re corporatist, globalist media. They’re adamantly opposed to the economic nationalist agenda President Trump has.”
The crowd cheered Bannon’s assessment of the press.
“Every day is going to be a fight,” he told the crowd.
But as the speaking engagement wound down, Schlapp got the two men back on their original track: expressing their fondness for each other.
“You guys have been so kumbaya here,” he said. “It’s time for a group hug.”
He prompted the two officials to list what they liked most about each other.
“I love how many collars he wears, interesting look,” Priebus joked, gesturing at Bannon’s blazer. “We’re different, but what’s very similar is, I think he’s very dogged in making sure that every day, the promises President Trump has made are promises we’re working on every day.”
He added that Bannnon is also “incredibly loyal” and “extremely consistent,” as well as a “very dear friend, and someone I work with every second of the day. I cherish his friendship.”
Bannon was direct: “I can run a little hot on occasions, and Reince is indefatigable,” he said, praising him as a steady hand in a tough job. Bannon went on to add, “Reince has been unwavering.”