Stephen Bannon Reassures Conservatives Uneasy About Trump - The New York Times
New York Times
24th February 2017
OXON HILL, Md. — In an administration hardly five weeks old, Stephen K. Bannon’s reputation has taken on almost mythic proportion as a populist, emerging power center, man of mystery.
When Mr. Bannon, President Trump’s chief strategist, appeared in public on Thursday for the first time since the president was sworn in, it was to deliver, in his own combative way, a message of soothing reassurance to the conservative activists gathered here for their annual assessment known as the Conservative Political Action Conference. Do not believe the “corporatist globalist media” that was “crying and weeping” on election night and is still “dead wrong” about what the Trump administration is doing.
Inside the White House, Mr. Bannon said, everything is going according to plan. The “deconstruction of the administrative state” has just begun.
Appearing with Reince Priebus, the president’s chief of staff, he joked about how well the two get along despite the friction that had always existed between them. “I can run a little hot on occasion,” Mr. Bannon said, complimenting Mr.
Priebus’s equanimity. And he urged a ballroom full of activists to stick together against the forces that were trying to tear them apart. “Whether you’re a populist, whether you’re a conservative, whether you’re a libertarian, whether you’re an economic nationalist,” he said, “we want you to have our back.
” Despite Mr. Bannon’s assurances, a simmering unease remains among conservatives over whether Mr. Trump will honor his promises to them, given that he was not part of their movement — or any political movement, for that matter — until very recently.
Not too many years ago CPAC almost denied Mr. Trump a speaking slot because it feared he only wanted to promote himself. As for Mr.
Bannon, he was essentially banished from the premises when he was running Breitbart News. So Mr. Bannon started a rival conference at a hotel down the street and called it The Uninvited.
Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, acknowledged the discomfort that comes with any hostile party takeover when she addressed the meeting. Mr. Trump, she said, had to uproot the political system.
“Every great movement ends up being a little bit sclerotic and dusty after a time,” she said. She predicted that CPAC would wholly embrace the new president. “Well, I think by tomorrow this will be TPAC,” she said.
Part of what has been so problematic in Mr. Trump’s first month is that the disruption he promised to unleash on the federal bureaucracy so far seems to be occurring in the wrong place: his administration, which has been rife with infighting and rattled by early missteps. The destructive forces that Mr.
Bannon and other conservatives complain about can sometimes come from within. Mr. Trump’s first nominee for labor secretary withdrew after allegations of domestic abuse and revelations that he had employed an undocumented immigrant he did not pay taxes on.
His hastily carried out executive order barring refugees and all visitors from seven predominantly Muslim countries has been tangled up in the courts and blocked from going into effect. He fired his national security adviser. And questions of how closely members of his inner circle may have worked with the Russians to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign continue to attract interest from investigators.
“Disruption is a good thing,” said Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC. Still, he acknowledged, “on some days they do it better than others. ” There is another lens through which to see the disorder that has characterized this White House, Mr.
Trump and his supporters say. And that is to understand that the president’s enemies — especially in the news media — want to distort his actions, exaggerate his mistakes and not discuss issues like safety and unemployment that are on the minds of his supporters. Gov.
Matt Bevin, Republican of Kentucky, said he was appalled by the “unbelievable incessant focus on the most mindless things,” with regard to how the president is portrayed in the news media. “Let’s talk about crime rates. Let’s talk about economic viability.
Let’s talk about joblessness,” Mr. Bevin added. “Let’s focus on things that matter and stop being so and titillated by idiocy.
” Ms. Conway said the stories of disarray in the White House, including recent accounts that she has been sidelined lately, were nothing more than tiresome palace intrigue. And without naming names, she said the attacks directed at her were really desperate attacks against the president by political enemies still sore about the election.
“To try to remove me from the equation would remove one of his voices and one of his trusted aides. And that would be hurtful to him,” she said. “They didn’t see this coming.
They weren’t prepared for this result — even though they all ran around and said: ‘We’re a divided country! We’re a divided country! ’” It was not as if the support for Mr. Trump, who will speak to the conference Friday morning, is not enthusiastic. “I always said he’s not a stupid man.
And if he has the right people around him he’s going to do the right thing,” said Daniel Cirucci of Cherry Hill, N. J. who was standing in line on Thursday evening to listen to Vice President Mike Pence, a conservative he said he deeply admired.
“I think he realizes the enormity of the job,” Mr. Cirucci added. “Now does that mean Trump is going to stop being Trump? No.
” These should be good times for conservatives — and much of the time they are. They control not just the White House but both houses of Congress and appear on the verge of regaining a majority on the Supreme Court. They have not dominated so many state governments in close to a century.
But part of the subtext of CPAC this year has been how conservative leaders are trying to smooth out the rougher edges of their movement, not all of which involve Mr. Trump. Because of the association that a fringe element of Trump supporters has with white nationalists, the CPAC organizers held a panel discussion on Thursday to signal their strong disapproval.
Its title: The Ain’t Right at All. Yet after the panel was over, the white nationalist leader Richard Spencer stood in the hall just off the main stage and declared himself a conservative. “I’m a conservative in a deep sense, in a sense that I care about people and defending a culture.
” And the organizers had to cancel a planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos, the former Breitbart editor and Trump supporter who has a history of insulting Jews, Muslims, and other minorities, after a tape surfaced in which he condoned sex with boys as young as 13. The projections of placidity inside CPAC tried to mask how fractious the movement remains. Yet optimists were not hard to find.
Mr. Pence said the Trump victory has given conservatives “the most important time in the history of our movement. ” “My friends, this is our time,” he told the conference Thursday night.
“This is the time to prove again that our answers are the right answers for America. ” In his brief remarks, Mr. Bannon ended on a conciliatory note.
He insisted that conservatives all had more in common than most people realized. “We have wide and sometimes divergent opinions,” he said. But the core of what conservatives believe is “that we’re a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders — that we’re a nation with a culture and a reason for being.
“And I think that’s what unites us,” he added. “And I think that’s what’s going to unite this movement going forward. ”.
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