We’ve seen quite a bit of anonymous-sourced reports of a White House in disarray over the past three weeks, fueled by a clumsy rollout of Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and the exit of Michael Flynn. One in particular fueled the ire of former Breitbart editor-in-chief Stephen Bannon, now Trump’s chief strategist, and it came from … Brietbart’s Matthew Boyle. Boyle reported on Tuesday that “multiple sources close to President Trump” said that Reince Priebus was the next to go and that a list of replacements was circulating in the White House — “a horrendous sign for the Chief of Staff.”
Bannon responded by going on the record with The Atlantic’s Rosie Gray in calling Boyle’s report “absurd.” He and Priebus have further pushed back against the story by doubling up for interviews with more mainstream-media outlets such as The Hill to emphasize their tight working relationship:
In a joint phone call with The Hill on Wednesday, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and chief strategist Stephen Bannon furiously pushed back at reports of division, saying there is no friction between them.
Trump aides are particularly angry with a story published Tuesday by the conservative outlet Bannon once ran, Breitbart News, in which anonymous sources blamed Priebus for tumult at the White House and suggested that the chief of staff’s job was in immediate jeopardy. …
“Reince is doing an amazing job,” Bannon told The Hill. “We are executing on President Trump’s agenda in record time. That’s because Reince is getting the job done.”
“It is a privilege to come to work on behalf of President Trump to serve the American people,” added Priebus. “We are a completely united team dedicated to enacting his bold agenda to bring back jobs and keep this country safe.”
Bannon gave CNN an on-the-record comment yesterday about his feelings on the Boyle article:
Bannon, who was executive chairman of Breitbart before becoming Donald Trump’s chief strategist, slammed the right-wing website on Wednesday for a report suggesting that White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus might lose his job.
“Not upset – livid,” is how Bannon described his feelings about the article to CNN. “The story is totally untrue. Reince is doing a great job. I couldn’t ask any more from a partner.” …
When asked if he had spoken with Breitbart prior to the story’s publication, Bannon said he had “totally cut ties” and hadn’t talked to them since leaving the organization last August. (He was however interviewed by the site’s “Breitbart News Daily” radio program late last year.)
The Trump administration has hit CNN hard as a source for “fake news,” so that effort by Bannon seems extraordinary, given his usual reluctance to venture too far into the media waters. Nor is that the only extraordinary example. The pair also gave Time Magazine an in-person interview in the White House:
Speaking to TIME in the Cabinet Room, Priebus and Bannon said reports of personal drama couldn’t be further from the truth. They described themselves and senior Trump aide Jared Kushner as an effective team. Bannon and Priebus acknowledged that they sometimes don’t see eye-to-eye on the pace of implementing Trump’s agenda. But they described such disagreement as a strength. Bannon, who has been outspoken in calling for swifter change, said Priebus’ relative caution is an effective counterbalance. “The reason knives are out for him is because of the great job he’s doing,” Bannon said Priebus.
The two of them spend large portions of their day in Priebus’ office, Priebus said, when not together in the Oval Office with Trump. “We’ve been working together since August ’16,” Bannon said of the day he joined the Trump campaign, adding he knew almost immediately he needed Priebus to help Trump win the election and to form a government. The need increased after Nov. 8 and the campaign team realized the transition—then run by Chris Christie—wasn’t ready for primetime. “It was a disaster,” Bannon said.
The proof of their working relationship, Bannon argued, was the swiftness with which Trump has acted after coming into office, including a slew of executive orders that have reversed government policy and fulfilled Trump campaign promises. “Compare our record to anyone else’s records,” Bannon said.
One cannot help but notice that Bannon and Priebus have sought out traditional media forums to push back on Boyle’s reporting. The choice of Time Magazine in particular is intriguing. Recall that the Inauguration Day kerfuffle over the supposed absence of the Martin Luther King Jr bust in the Oval Office? It started with Time’s Zeke Miller’s pool report, who almost immediately profusely apologized for not realizing the bust hadn’t been taken out at all but just had been temporarily obstructed from his view. For several days, the White House didn’t let up on Miller, using that as an example of mainstream-media bias against Trump.
The byline on today’s Time interview of Bannon and Priebus? Zeke Miller. Perhaps the mainstream media shouldn’t get so “terrified” over not getting a question in a couple of short pressers, eh?
It’s not just Breitbart that’s been pointing out the turmoil in the White House, however. Politico has another piece on Priebus’ struggles to contain the chaos:
Priebus, who arrives at the White House by 6:30 a.m. and often doesn’t leave until midnight, has launched an early morning staff meeting aimed at streamlining each day. He spends hours on the phone with Capitol Hill Republicans, who have been left confused and flat-footed by the administration’s stormy opening days. He’s trying to reshape an overwhelmed communications office that has had its share of fumbles. And, along with several others, he guided the search for a replacement for scandal-ridden National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whose dismissal an infuriated Priebus helped to engineer.
The maneuvers paint the picture of an embattled aide frantically trying to corral a White House that has been swamped by division and dysfunction. Whether he succeeds could determine his political future—and determine the administration’s path as it moves beyond its tumultuous first month. …
Amid the fury, Priebus has adopted a low-profile approach, quietly embracing his role as the guy whose job it is to keep an unruly White House running and granting few interviews. He did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
For Priebus — a Washington Republican who has long been close to mainstream party figures like Haley Barbour and Karl Rove — the Trump wilderness has at times been hard to navigate. He has been trying to closely manage staffing across Cabinet agencies. Yet he often feels a need to be at Trump’s side throughout the day to make sure the easy-to-distract president stays on track. During meetings, when his boss veers into a tangent, Priebus is often the one trying to get him in line.
“Trump is nothing like Reince has ever dealt with,” said one person who knows Priebus well. “Would you want the job of trying to control him and getting him to focus?”
Some of this confusion and turmoil would come in any new leadership team brought in from the outside to run a massive organization. The lack of experience in government and confusion over portfolios and jurisdictions undoubtedly play a part in it as well. This is, after all, a brand new administration, and turmoil would be an expected outcome. More than most administrations, this one should probably be judged at the 100-day mark rather than the 28-day mark to see if the confusion resolves itself.