American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp hosted a conversation with White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and White House strategist Steve Bannon on Thursday at CPAC 2017.
Priebus began by declaring that President Trump, who will also speak at CPAC, would become known as “one of the greatest presidents that ever served this country.”
Schlapp noted that Trump will also be the first president to address CPAC during his first year in office since Ronald Reagan in 1981, and he congratulated Trump for assembling “the most conservative Cabinet we’ve ever seen, according to our CPAC ratings.”
When Schlapp asked for the “biggest misconception about what’s going on in the Donald Trump White House,” Priebus replied: “In regard to us two, I think the biggest misconception is everything that you’re reading.”
Priebus and Bannon said that contrary to media reports about friction between them, they’re working very well together.
“It’s actually something that you all helped build,” Priebus told the audience. “When you bring together, and what this election showed, and what President Trump showed — and let’s not kid ourselves, I mean I can talk about data and ground game, and Steve can talk about big ideas, but the truth of the matter is, Donald Trump, President Trump brought together the party and the conservative movement.”
The President’s chief of staff went on to say, prompting a burst of applause:
And I’ve got to tell you, if the party and the conservative movement are together — similar to Steve and I — it can’t be stopped. And President Trump was the one guy, he was the one person — and I can say it after overseeing 16 people kill each other — it was Donald Trump that was able to bring this party and this movement together. Steve and I know that, and we live it every day. Our job is to get the agenda of President Trump through the door, and on pen and paper.
Bannon, formerly a Breitbart News executive, argued that the mainstream media has been consistently wrong in how it portrayed the Trump campaign, the transition, and now the administration during its first months.
“If you remember, the campaign was the most chaotic, by the media’s description, most chaotic, most disorganized, most unprofessional, had no earthly idea what they were doing — and then you saw them all crying and weeping that night on the Eighth,” he recalled.
Bannon agreed with Priebus that President Trump’s ideas, energy, and vision were the key to galvanizing a broad coalition of supporters around him.
“A lot of people have strong beliefs about different things, but we understand that you can come together to win, and we understood that from August 15th,” Bannon said. “We never had a doubt, and Donald Trump never had a doubt that he was going to win.”
Priebus and Bannon both emphasized how much of Trump’s agenda is clearly laid out in his speeches, going all the way back to his appearance at CPAC 2011.
“What all of us were starving for the whole time, because we’re so sick of politics and politicians — in spite of the fact that we love being here, we actually hate politics — but what we were starving for was somebody real,” Priebus contended. “Somebody genuine, somebody that was actually who he said he was.”
“If you want to see the Trump agenda, it’s very simple: it was all in the speeches,” said Bannon. “He went around to these rallies with those speeches that had a tremendous amount of content in them. I happen to believe, and I think many others do, he’s probably the greatest public speaker in those large arenas since William Jennings Bryan.”
“Remember, we didn’t have any money,” Bannon pointed out. “Hillary Clinton and these guys had over $2 billion. We had a couple of hundred million dollars. It was those rallies and those speeches. All he’s doing right now is he’s laid out an agenda with those speeches, to the promises he made, and our job every day is just to execute on that, to simply get a path to how those get executed.”
Bannon testified that President Trump’s response to advice that he should deviate from his agenda for short-term political benefit has been, “No, I promised the American people this, and this is the plan we’re going to execute on.”
“That’s why you’ve seen the executive orders, the way he’s gone through the Supreme Court, and by the way the other 102 judges that we’re eventually going to pick,” he said.
“It’s just methodical, and that’s what the mainstream media won’t report. Just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the campaign, and just like they were dead wrong on the chaos of the transition, 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. The mainstream media had better understand something: all of those promises are going to be implemented,” Bannon promised.
Priebus said the most urgent task for the administration was confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. He explained:
Number One, we’re not talking about a change over a four-year period. We’re talking about a change of potentially forty years of law. But more important than that, it established trust. It established that President Trump is a man of his word. We always knew that. But when he said here’s twenty names on a piece of paper back in July, remember, and he said, ‘I’m going to pick my judge out of these twenty people that are on this piece of paper,’ and he did it — that’s number one, because Neil Gorsuch represents a conservative, represents the type of judge that has the vision of Donald Trump, and it fulfills the promise that he made to all of you, and to all Americans across the country.
Priebus said the second item on the president’s agenda was deregulation. He argued that Trump hasn’t been given enough credit for imposing a consistent process of deregulation by ordering that “for every regulation presented for passage, that Cabinet secretary has to identify two that that person would eliminate.”
The third priority identified by Priebus was immigration — “protecting the sovereignty of the United States, putting a wall on the southern border, making sure that criminals are not part of our process.”
“These are all things that eight percent of Americans agree with, and these are all things that President Trump is doing within thirty days,” he declared.
Bannon divided the White House agenda into three categories: national security, economic nationalism, and the deconstruction of the administrative state. He said:
I think one of the most pivotal moments in modern American history was his immediate withdrawal from TPP. Got us out of a trade deal and let our sovereignty come back to ourselves. The people in the mainstream media don’t get this, but we’re already working in consultation with the Hill, people are starting to think through a whole raft of amazing and innovative bilateral relationships, bilateral trading relationships with people that will reposition America in the world as a fair trading nation, and start to bring jobs — high value added manufacturing jobs — back to the United States of America.
“The rule of law is going to exist, when you talk about our sovereignty and you talk about immigration,” he stated, linking the president’s trade positions with national security. He said the defense budget and Secretary of Defense James Mattis’s plan for defeating ISIS would also be part of that imperative.
Bannon made the interesting point that business leaders have been telling the White House that slashing regulations is at least as important as cutting taxes to get the economy moving faster.
“If you look at these Cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason, and that is the deconstruction — the way the progressive left runs is that if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put it in some kind of regulation in an agency. That’s all going to be deconstructed, and that’s why I think this regulatory thing is so important,” he said.
Schlapp brought the conversation back to media coverage of the new administration. Priebus said he thought there was hope for improvement.
“I”m personally so conditioned to hearing about why President Trump isn’t going to win the election, why a controversy in the primary is going to take down President Trump; I lived through it as chairman of the party,” he said, recalling his time as chairman of the Republican National Committee during the 2016 election.
“It really hit me because it was maybe the summer of 2015, and you remember the media was constantly pounding President Trump, and the polling kept getting better and better for President Trump. But it was when I went home and got out of this town, and I went back to Kenosha, and I talked to my neighbor. And I said, ‘Bob, what do you think?’ He goes, ‘Man, I really love that Trump.’ I said, ‘Sandy, what do you think?’ ‘We’re for Trump.’”
“You all lived through it too, because you all had different people you were for, but you kept running into your neighbors, and you kept running into people that you know, and what did they keep telling you? They kept telling you, ‘Trump, Trump, Trump,’” he said, unintentionally sparking a chant of the president’s name from the audience. He said it was clear the country was hungry for something much bigger than a single issue campaign, or a modest course correction from the previous administration.
Bannon took his turn at the microphone to disagree with Priebus about whether media coverage of the Trump administration would improve. He argued that it was likely to get worse.
“They’re corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has,” Bannon argued, recalling how that message resonated everywhere from previous CPAC appearances by Trump to small town hall meetings.
He predicted media coverage would therefore get worse as Trump continues to “press his agenda, and as economic conditions get better, more jobs get better, they’re going to continue to fight.” Bannon warned:
If you think they’re going to give you your country back without a fight, you are sadly mistaken. Every day it is going to be a fight, and that is what I’m proudest about Donald Trump. All the opportunities he had to waver off this, all the people who have come to him and said, ‘Oh, you’ve got to moderate.’ Every day in the Oval Office he tells Reince and I, ‘I commited this to the American people, I promised this when I ran, and I’m going to deliver on this.’
Priebus stressed the importance of Republicans sticking together through the coming years.
“I think what you’ve got is an incredible opportunity to use this victory that President Trump and all of us, and you, and everyone that made this happen put together, and work together, continue to communicate,” he said, adding:
Some of the core principles of President Trump are very similar to those of Ronald Reagan. When you look at peace through strength and building up the military — I mean, how many times have you heard President Trump say, ‘I’m going to build up the military, I’m going to take care of the vets, I’m going to make sure that we don’t have a Navy that’s decimated and planes that are nowhere to be found?’ Peace through strength. Deregulation. You think about the economy and the economic boom that was created.
Some of it is going to take a little time — to get the jobs back, to get more money in people’s pockets. Those things are going to happen. In the meantime, we have to stick together and make sure that we’ve got President Trump for eight years. He’s somebody that we know that we’re going to be very proud of as these things get done. But it’s going to take all of us working together to make it happen.
Bannon saw a “new political order” continuing to take shape, noting that populists, limited-government conservatives, libertarians, and economic nationalists could be found in the CPAC audience.
“We have wide and sometimes divergent opinions, but I think the center core of what we believe — that we’re a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being,” he said. “I think that’s what unites us, and I think that is what’s going to unite this movement going forward.”
“We’re at the top of the first inning on this. It’s going to take just as much fight, just as much focus, and just as much determination, and the one thing I’d like to leave you guys today with is that we want you to have our back … but more importantly, hold us accountable. Hold us accountable to what we promised, hold us accountable for delivering on what we promised.”
Modertor Matt Schlapp, in acknowledgment of the unique nature of their joint appearance, asked the Honorable Gentlemen what they appreciated about one another.
Priebus lauded Bannon for being “very dogged in ensuring that every day, the promises that President Trump has made are the promises that we’re working on,” for being “incredibly loyal,” and for being “extremely consistent.”
“As you can imagine, there are many things hitting the president’s ear and desk every day, different things that come to the president that want to move him off his agenda, and Steve is very consistent and very loyal to the agenda, and is a presence that I think is very important to have in the White House,” he said. He added that he thought of Bannon as a dear and cherished friend.
“I can run a little hot on occasions,” Bannon allowed. “And Reince is indefatigable. It’s low key, but it’s determination. The thing I respect most, and the only way this thing works, is Reince is always kind of steady … his job is by far one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever seen in my life.”