The most interesting thing about the on-stage conversation Thursday between White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Counselor Steve Bannon wasn’t the bonhomie—the effort to demonstrate that they really do get along, despite news reports that have said otherwise—it was the hints about what’s coming from the Donald Trump White House and how they see the world.
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First, the hints. Bannon mentioned events “three weeks out” and referred to the “tax reform bill,” which implies a big overhaul is coming. Priebus offered this cryptic comment when asked about important things that are coming: “When you look at the world order and some of the things that are going on—that will be dealt with soon.” Does that mean military action against ISIS? New alliances? A pending announcement of foreign travel? The hint was tantalizing, but what it means isn’t quite clear.
Their appearance at a forum at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) was one of the highlights of the four-day gathering, and the ballroom where it was held was fully packed with cheering conservatives and a teeming press corps eager to see Priebus and especially the much more elusive Bannon, the former Breitbart editor whose unlikely trajectory runs from Goldman Sachs banker to Seinfeld investor to his current seats at the president’s elbow and on the National Security Council.
Bannon did not disappoint. He repeatedly denounced the “globalist, corporatist media,” slamming the press for “crying and weeping” on election night, when Hillary Clinton lost. He portrayed the press as an opposition force that would just dig in as the president racked up successes—a force adamantly opposed to Trump’s nationalist agenda.
One of the most interesting things Bannon said was that the goal of the administration was the “deconstruction of the administrative state,” citing the president’s deregulation executive orders. He also doubled down on immigration policy, saying of the tough new deportation regulations issued this week by the Department of Homeland Security: “The rule of law is going to exist when it comes to our national sovereignty.” In another tantalizing hint, Bannon said the defense budget would reflect this new emphasis.
Looking back at the presidential campaign, Bannon called Trump the greatest speaker before large rallies since “William Jennings Bryan,” the populist Democrat who was his party’s nominee three times. He repeatedly pointed to the then candidate’s speeches as offering a blueprint for the White House.
The least interesting parts of the talk were the cheery banter between Bannon and Priebus. They heaped praise on each other, with the chief of staff hailing Bannon’s passion and consistency, and Bannon complimenting Priebus’s temperament.
The event was moderated by Matt Schlapp, the head of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC. He was the political director in the George W. Bush White House, which promoted immigration reform, expansion of the Department of Education, a significant increase in foreign aid, free trade agreements and an international coalition to invade Iraq. It’s a new world.Try Newsweek: Subscription offers