Of all of the odd couples created by Donald Trump’s presidency, none was odder than Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus.
Bannon was the blustering bomb-thrower of Breitbart News fame/infamy. Priebus was the poster boy of the Republican establishment. And yet, according to all accounts in the early days of the Trump White House, the two men got along famously. They loved each other! Mutt! Jeff!
Turns out they were slightly less chummy than we were all led to believe.
In an interview with Charlie Rose set to air on “60 Minutes” this Sunday, Bannon slams Priebus for his reaction to the pre-election release of the 2005 “Access Hollywood” tape in which candidate Trump tells host Billy Bush of his interactions with women: “Grab them by the p–sy. You can do anything.”
Bannon recounts a meeting Trump called in the days following the tape’s release that he and Priebus attended. Here’s Bannon’s recollection of it:
Trump went around the room and asked people the percentages he thought of – of still winning and what the recommendation. And Reince started off and Reince said, ‘You have – you have two choices. You either drop out right now, or you lose by the biggest landslide in American political history.’ And Trump, with his humor goes, ‘That’s a great way – that’s a great way to start our – start our conversation.’”
Bannon goes on to add that he spoke last and told Trump he had a “100 percent” chance of winning as long as he stuck to his core message and ignored the “Access Hollywood” stuff as much as possible.
“He goes, ‘Come on, it’s not 100 percent,’” Bannon says of Trump. “I go, ‘It’s absolutely 100 percent.’ And I told him why. ‘They don’t care.’”
For Bannon, that “Billy Bush Saturday” was a critical defining moment. He told Rose:
“Billy Bush Saturday showed me who really had Donald Trump’s back to play to his better angels. All you had to do, and what he did, was go out and continue to talk to the American people. … People didn’t care. They knew Donald Trump was just doing locker room talk with a guy. And they dismissed it. It had no lasting impact on the campaign. Yet, if you see the mainstream media that day, it was, literally, he was falling into Dante’s Inferno.”
(Side note: Bannon is arguing here that Trump following his “better angels” meant ignoring the deeply misogynistic comments he made about women simply because voters didn’t care.)
To Bannon, his time with Trump can be divided between pre-“Access Hollywood” and post-“Access Hollywood.” That moment crystallized for him who was really all in on Trump and who was still part of the GOP mainstream – protecting their own interests rather than standing firm in their commitment to Trump.
Bannon was on one side of that line. Priebus was the leading voice on the other.
But, hey, once Trump actually got elected, Bannon forgot all about that moment right? Um, no.
Check out this exchange between Bannon and Rose:
Rose: Boy, you took names on Billy Bush Saturday, didn’t you?
Bannon: I did. O – I gotta – I gotta – you know, I’m Irish. I gotta get my black book and I got ‘em. … Christie, because of Billy Bush weekend – and – was – was – not looked at for a Cabinet position.
Rose: He wasn’t there for you on Billy Bush weekend so therefore he doesn’t get a Cabinet position?
Bannon: I told him, “The plane leaves at 11 o’clock in the morning. If you’re on the plane, you’re on the team.” Didn’t make the plane.
While that passage is about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie – another attendee of the “Billy Bush Saturday” meeting – the lesson applies to Priebus too.
Priebus and Bannon may have found common cause in the White House. But, Bannon makes clear in this interview with Rose that he never really trusted Priebus to be loyal to Trump after the “Access Hollywood” moment.
Which, if you think about it makes sense. Bannon is the consummate outsider, far more comfortable charging the gates than defending them. Priebus is a guy who built his career on effectively coloring within the lines, following the rules laid out by the defenders of the status quo.
But, what Bannon’s recollection of “Billy Bush Saturday” does do is put to lie the idea that he and Priebus were great friends and comrades in arms. They weren’t, at least according to Bannon.