Bannon and Priebus: The odd couple that holds Trump's keys to success
© Getty Images

The back and forth between the establishment GOP and the populist insurgent wing of the party is perhaps best personified by the relationship between White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Trump's new White House staff certainly has their work cut out for them; the press has been quick to use any inkling of infighting or discord within the administration to portray Trump’s first few weeks in office as being a disorganized disaster. Take, for example, last week's flurry of stories about the new crew's "chaos." And "chaos." Oh, and did I mention, "chaos?”


Such behavior is not unexpected from the media, labeled by Bannon as the "opposition party." But the question that bears repeating is whether or not the differences between insiders and outsiders can be salved. And there’s a strong case that there’s no major issue with Trump hearing opinions from a variety of sources and perspectives — in fact, it likely makes him a stronger leader.


Look no further than President Obama's cabinet selections in 2009. Obama himself said that he was looking to form a "team of rivals," that would allow him to make the best and most well-informed decisions. Placing Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles Hillary Clinton documentary to premiere at Sundance MORE and Rahm Emanuel on the same staff might have been a mistake, but for reasons other than competition in the marketplace of ideas.

Trump built his career as a businessman by surrounding himself with trusted experts. Utilizing their various levels of experience and knowledge bases, he created one of the largest business empires in the country, and one that was a foundation to become president of the United States. These are not soft accolades — they show a pattern that leads directly to success. There is no reason to jettison such a winning formula now that the stakes are significantly higher.

Bannon is a fiery populist who, like Trump, understands the mainstream media. After building his fortune through savvy investments in the entertainment industry, Bannon grew Breitbart News into a massive organization that receives over 300 million page views per month.

In large part, Breitbart grew exponentially because Bannon tapped into the growing frustration among voters that Washington insiders — on both sides of the aisle — no longer represent the will of the American people. Breitbart didn’t just knock down wasteful and careless Democrats — the site also spent ample time criticizing Washington’s establishment Republicans like Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Hillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings MORE, Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial On The Money: Pelosi, Trump tout deal on new NAFTA | McConnell says no trade vote until impeachment trial wraps up | Lawmakers push spending deadline to Thursday McConnell: Senate impeachment trial will begin in January MORE, and John McCainJohn Sidney McCainEx-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat Man acquitted over tweet offering 0 to killing an ICE agent Lessons of the Kamala Harris campaign MORE.

Priebus, on the other hand, symbolizes that same establishment wing of the GOP that Bannon despises. Priebus is generally considered level-headed and well-liked among Washington’s permanent fixtures.

During the year leading up to the election, he deftly navigated the field of 17 Republican primary candidates to appear and act neutral — a rare feat of statecraft in what could have easily become a divided party. And while Trump wasn't the RNC chief's favorite candidate, he provided an even-keeled look at the electoral landscape.

Despite the media’s best effort to portray the combination of Bannon the insurgent and Priebus the connected insider as disastrous, the two have already proven to be effective. Through the machinations of the duo, Trump went from a seemingly far-fetched candidate whose campaign was in great peril, to winning 30 states on November 8th.

And there’s no reason to think that the Bannon-Priebus combo won’t be just as effective now that Trump is in office. In fact, we already see it working. Bannon has helped shape Trump’s policy on issues ranging from immigration, to defunding sanctuary cities, to Obamacare; meanwhile, Priebus has crafted and presented these policies in ways that are palatable to Congress.  

There is a unique opportunity for the new administration. Trump rides the fine line between well-dressed businessman and the tip of the spear of populism — the seemingly contradictory nature of being a “blue collar billionaire” carried Trump over the top in many Midwestern states. That same combination mirrors the Priebus-Bannon relationship.

These differing styles allows Trump to continue his relationship with the base that put him in office while negotiating changes with Washington’s political class. It also helps bridge the gap between the increasingly divided wings of the GOP.

All of this shouldn’t imply that the establishment and populist wings in the Trump administration will always agree. Many in the media are already licking their lips waiting for a public feud. CNN published a column before the inauguration about the upcoming “power struggle.”

But the advice of both Bannon and Priebus will hone Trump’s understanding of key issues, and allow for a particular balance of blue collar-style populism and backroom negotiations unseen since the time of Andrew Jackson.

This time Trump brought in Bannon and Priebus instead of Ol’ Hickory’s wheel of cheese.

Kristin Tate is a conservative columnist and author of the book "Government Gone Wild: How D.C. Politicians Are Taking You For a Ride And What You Can Do About It." She was recently named one of NewsMax's "30 Most Influential Republicans Under 30."

The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill