The Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday will cheer the first Republican White House officials that attendees have seen in almost a decade, but many will also be watching to see if high-level Trump administration officials can put down rumors that they are having trouble working together.
Conservatives who travel to the Gaylord Hotel in Maryland’s National Harbor will be greeted by a generous lineup of President Trump’s closest advisers, including White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, senior strategist Steve Bannon and counselor Kellyanne Conway. They will also hear from newly minted Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Vice President Mike Pence.
They will be followed on Friday morning by Trump, whose decision to skip last year’s confab was categorized as a “missed opportunity” by CPAC organizers. Scott Pruitt, the newest director of the Environmental Protection Agency and a figure scorned by the left, will close the three-day summit on Saturday.
White House officials say their heavy presence at CPAC reflects the president’s ongoing desire to “maintain a running dialogue with his supporters” and to share his blueprint for the next four years. “We are always looking for ways to promote the president’s message and agenda and CPAC is a great platform to do that,” one source told the Washington Examiner.
But others claim the administration is seizing an opportunity to allay suspicions that senior White House aides are at war with each other, and is deploying them to deliver a singular message to conference-goers and to reporters who’ve cast Trump’s inner circle as a quartet of power-hungry civil servants.
“A lot of this is optics. It is to send a message that this administration is unified and has and to convey to folks who are on the frontlines back home in their communities that President Trump is going to succeed in delivering on his promises,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.
Thursday’s joint panel with Priebus and Bannon certainly lends itself to that argument. Sources close to the administration have told multiple outlets that Trump’s top two aides have locked horns on a number of issues since Trump took office, and were constantly at war with each other during the campaign and transition process.
Both men have worked overtime to put an end to such rumors and claim they’ve originated from individuals outside the White House and critics of the current president.
Thursday’s panel will give Priebus and Bannon another chance to publicly refute such allegations, while providing thousands of conservatives with the opportunity to watch them interact outside of the West Wing. Moreover, the two men will be able share how they are using their backgrounds – Priebus’ establishment credentials, Bannon’s populist vision – to create an agenda for all Americans.
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