On the Bannon-Priebus Show

In The New Yorker, Pajama Boy Ryan Lizza discusses the joint Bannon-Priebus appearance at CPAC (“How Steve Bannon Conquered CPAC – And The Republican Party”):

The Bannon-Priebus appearance was a reminder of how quickly Bannon’s view of conservatism came to defeat Priebus’s. Back in March, 2013, Bannon was something of an outcast at cpac. In the wake of Mitt Romney’s loss in the 2012 Presidential election, conservatives were trying to emphasize their movement’s diversity and tolerance. The prevailing takeaway from the election was that the right had grown too old, too white, and too intolerant—and so cpac, which often serves as an incubator for ideas emerging on the far right, needed to downplay the fringes of the movement.

The lineup of speakers that year was by no means a collection of squishy Republicans: the two biggest stars were the former Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin and Donald Trump. But the emphasis from the main stage was on a welcoming small-government conservatism, and the energy in the audience came from libertarian activists, who stormed the conference and helped Senator Rand Paul win the meeting’s Presidential straw poll.

Bannon, who was the head of Breitbart News, roamed the halls as a disgruntled and dishevelled fringe player. Before the conference, he had scanned the schedule and complained that cpac’s organizers had cast out the voices representing what he viewed as the real issues on the right: the threat from Islam, illegal immigration, and corporate America’s influence on politics…

So what was Priebus, who was then the chairman of the Republican National Committee, doing in 2013 while Bannon was promoting these views at cpac? On the Monday after the conference, Priebus released a now infamous report about how Republicans could take back the White House. The key insight was that Republicans needed to reach out to nonwhite groups, use more tolerant language, and “embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform.” Priebus wanted the report to serve as a road map for the Party’s 2016 Presidential candidate. Trump, of course, ignored it and turned Hispanics and Muslims into the bogeymen of his campaign. He heeded the direction of Bannon, who argued that increasing the G.O.P.’s share of the white vote was a surer path to victory.

It was no wonder, then, that Bannon looked so confident onstage on Thursday, while Priebus seemed fidgety and nervous. Acknowledging that his views have taken over the movement, Bannon at one point turned to Matt Schlapp, the president of the American Conservative Union, which hosts the event, and said, “I want to thank you for finally inviting me to cpac.”

How quickly times change.

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