Stephen Bannon Appears at CPAC with His Valet Reince Priebus

News & Politics

The elusive presidential adviser Stephen Bannon and the much-abused White House chief of staff Reince Priebus put on a show of brotherly love at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, which pretty much confirmed that Bannon controls the agenda of the Trump administration and Priebus serves as his gopher.

Designed to quell once-rampant speculation that Priebus is "in way over his head" and possibly on his way out the door, the joint appearance with Matt Schlapp of CPAC, also enabled Bannon to amplify the administration’s message that the news media, not the Democratic party, is the administration's opposition.

“If you look at the opposition party and how they portray the campaign, how they portrayed the transition, and how they are portraying the administration, it is always wrong,” Bannon said the first time he opened his mouth.

The men differed on the three most important items on the Trump agenda, and the difference was telling. Priebus spoke of Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, deregulation and immigration in that order. Bannon spoke of “national security and sovereignty, economic nationalism, and the deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Priebus, in other words, has no role in national security, which is controlled by Bannon, now a member of the National Security Council’s Principals Committee.  That means that in a crisis Trump will be consulting with Bannon and not with, say, Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

(The reason that Trump and Bannon aren't interested in the views of the nation's top military commander were evident on Thursday. In an appearance at the Brookings Institution, Gen. Dunford was asked about the term “radical Islamic terrorism." Dunford explained that he always uses the term “violent extremism." Most military officers prefer not to single out Islam as the enemy of the United States because the term increases the threat to U.S. soldiers in the field. For Trump and Bannon, the term “violent extremism" is anathema.)

Bannon predicted the conflict between the Trump administration and its media critics “is going to get worse” because “the corporatist globalist media is adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda…” Priebus, a traditional Republican and formerly ardent advocate of free trade, never spoke of “economic nationalism.”

In summing up at the end of the program, Priebus looked backwards, likening Trump to Ronald Reagan, while Bannon looked forward, claiming “a new political order is coming into being.”

That remains to be seen. Meanwhile, Priebus (and a lot of Republicans) want to persuade Trump to govern more in the tradition of Republicans since Reagan. Bannon wants to make sure he (and they) do not succeed. As the CPAC love fest showed, Bannon is winning.

Watch the conversation:

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