Reince Priebus—nine months after he was ousted from his chief of staff role at the Trump White House—is still on message, and in denial that there is or was anything amiss at the White House.
Priebus spoke at an event hosted by Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service, and reflected on his time in the “chaotic” West Wing—admitting that he sometimes got “caught in the crossfire,” and was careful not to mentioning the conflicts currently raging inside the West Wing.
He did not address his own ritual humiliation during his tenure as chief of staff (culminating with one of the first firing by tweet of the administration) instead he stuck to praising the president’s style, governance and even his Twitter feed.
When asked if he thought that the president adds into the anxiety surrounding government institutions, Priebus claimed that President Trump tapped “into what voter thinks about institutions.”
“What they think about the EPA and [the Department of the] Interior, it’s not good,” Priebus said. “They don’t like it. They think they waste money, and they have to pay for things to do nothing for their life.” He failed to mention that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been mired in scandal for weeks, starting with his $50-a-night Capitol Hill rental, and progressing towards his allegedly unnecessary spending habits—including federally funded flights back to his hometown and his alleged practice of punishing underlings who questioned his spending.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been scrutinized for mixing official travel (and their expenses) with political events. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also was recently grilled for his purchase of a $31,000 mahogany dining set for his office.
Priebus also said that Trump wasn’t necessarily adding to the anxiety of major institutions, but he was simply “forcing every department to look at itself.” For example, he mentioned hiring freezes—which he sees “as a caring of these institutions.” The State Department hiring freeze was highly scrutinized when it was put in place, and is said to have inflicted damage to the agency after former Secretary of State Tillerson rolled it back in February.
One recently retired diplomat told Foreign Policy that it “still left the department worse off than it was before the hiring freeze. You don’t get to call a partial fix of a self-inflicted gunshot wound a win.”
He had more rosy words for the chaos in the White House, particularly about tariffs. He said that the internal debate “slowed things down,” but Trump eventually grew tiresome of the back-and-forth.
“You should be comforted that there are people in front of president who are arguing tooth and nail, that are arguing [tariffs are] bad,” Priebus told the crowd. “Gary Cohn was making those arguments, but in spite of his best efforts, he went to the other side… [Trump] got sick of hearing people out, and returned to default position.”
Priebus was steadfast in his praise for Trump throughout the short talk. Despite him attempting to get the president to toss Twitter while he was still in Trump’s orbit, he talked up Trump’s “unique brand.” He claimed the president has “been good for party,” and returned the GOP “to party that thinks the American worker is worth fighting for.”
He also said that no one in this generation could replicate what Trump did in 2016, musing that maybe another candidate “in 30 years” will turn to Trumpian tactics in campaigning—but no one could trump Trump right now. As far as the 2020 elections are concerned, Priebus has his pick made.
“In the current situation [for the Democrats], things are not very good. There’s no way Kamala Harris or Bernie can do it. I think Biden is formidable, but I don’t know if he can make it through a primary fight,” Priebus said. “It won’t be easy, but if Dems don’t think of something better, I think the president wins reelection.”