White House senior strategist Steve Bannon and President Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus are on a mission to convince America that they are best friends—and they’ll do everything short of filming themselves running hand-in-hand through a field of daisies to do it.
The push started last week, with Bannon and Priebus giving a fun, chatty interview to New York Magazine, claiming that they fall asleep listening to the sound of each others’ voices, and joking that they give each other backrubs.
The effort intenstified Wednesday, as word leaked that Bannon “unloaded” on Breitbart news reporter Matt Boyle for printing a scathing attack on Priebus, claiming that “multiple sources” within the White House reported Trump tiring of his right-hand man, and considering a change after he botched the rollout for Trump’s immigration executive order.
With news outlets speculating that Bannon had placed the piece with his old outlet, Bannon, later, went on the record with The Atlantic, telling former Buzzfeed reporter Rosie Gray that Boyle’s story was “absurd.” Another White House official told Gray that, “I can also tell you that Bannon and Miller are very unhappy with the story and consider it an attack on a close friend.”
Bannon described his feelings over the article as “not just mad—livid,” to CNN.
Thursday, it appears that the two are on what is known as a full-blown “charm offensive,” telling The Hill in a joint phone call that they couldn’t be better friends if they tried, and called themselves a “united team” dedicated to Trump’s “bold agenda.” Bannon told the DC-centric outlet that his buddy Reince is doing an “amazing job.”
In a story for TIME, the pair told lead political reporter Zeke Miller that they spend basically all their time together. In that interview, Bannon was even more complimentary, telling Miller that the “knives are out” for Priebus because of the “great job he’s doing.”
There could be two reasons for the sudden and inseparable relationship between two men who have, legendarily, very different ideas about the Trump Presidency—so different that it was immediately clear they would clash in the Oval Office (and not just because Donald Trump, by reputation, enjoys conflict among his senior staff).
The first is that Bannon feels targeted in the wake of Mike Flynn’s resignation, and that his aggressive strategy—and pre-administration alliance with Flynn—led to a colossal failure that has exposed the Trump White House to an endless barrage of criticism. Flynn’s departure has, of course, thrown Trump’s ties to Russia into stark relief, and even Republicans are suggesting that a full investigation is warranted.
An alliance with Priebus makes him harder to fire.
There’s also concerns that Priebus is being blamed by Trump’s most ardent supporters—the so-called “alt-right”—for having a “moderating” influence on the President. Sources tell Heat Street thatTrump’s Internet fringe fan clubs aren’t happy that Flynn was booted (his son was well within the alt-right ranks before leaving Twitter over his embrace of Pizzagate), and blame Priebus for Trump’s lack of urgency in banning Muslims, building a wall on the Mexican border, and even delaying a complete repeal of Obamacare.
An alliance with Bannon makes him harder to criticize.
Its likely we’ll see even more of these lovey-dovey, mushy, friendship-bracelet interviews, until the rancor dies down or they break up, whichever comes first.