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As President-Elect, Trump Dials Down The Bravado


Donald Trump White House is taking shape. Over the weekend, President-elect Trump named Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, as his chief of staff. He's an establishment Republican seen as someone who might be able to work closely with congressional Republican leaders. The appointment getting more attention this morning is newly named chief White House strategist, Stephen Bannon. He is the controversial former CEO of the right-wing website Breitbart. We have Chris Buskirk on the line. He is publisher of the conservative blog "American Greatness." Chris, good morning.

CHRIS BUSKIRK: Good morning, David. Nice to talk to you.

GREENE: Thanks for coming on. Let's talk a little bit about Breitbart, which Steve Bannon ran. I mean, they're known for using some offensive language - saying President Obama was importing more hating Muslims. They've called conservative columnist Bill Kristol a renegade Jew, Planned Parenthood's work compared to the Holocaust. I mean, do you want the man who ran this media company inside the Trump White House?

BUSKIRK: Yeah, I mean, I guess it doesn't matter what I want or not, I guess. But you're - what you probably want to know is am I comfortable with them in the White House.

GREENE: I think that's another way to ask it, yeah. Are you comfortable with it?

BUSKIRK: Yeah, I am comfortable with it. I mean, I try and understand people the way they understand themselves. And, you know, when I think about Steve Bannon, I think about a guy who describes himself, when he's asked - he likes to say, you know, I come from a blue-collar, Irish-Catholic, pro-Kennedy, pro-union family of Democrats. And I think that tells people a lot about where he's coming from. Too many of Trump's critics - and of Bannon's critics, for that matter, too - want to see everything through race-colored glasses.

I don't think that's the way they understand themselves, either Trump or Bannon. I think that Steve Bannon, when he was at Breitbart and when - and now, he thinks about things in terms of overarching storylines or narratives. And for him, those things - the things that are important are the things that were important during the campaign...

GREENE: But I mean...

BUSKIRK: ...Immigration, trade, foreign policy.

GREENE: Even if you consider yourself, I mean, as you say, you know, blue-collar, coming from a community like that, does that excuse being - leading a media company that uses some of that language? What is the point of those headlines?

BUSKIRK: You know, look. Breitbart, I think, was - is a different animal than the White House, for sure. And I am not familiar with those particular headlines. I think that the thing we need to remember about Bannon is that when he was running a media company, he was looking for clicks. He was looking for people to come to the website. When he was working - or when he has been working for Donald Trump, he's been trying to drive policy. He's been trying to tell a story that revolves around policies that are important to the American people...

GREENE: OK, that's an important point here.

BUSKIRK: ...And that means everybody.

GREENE: I mean, you suggest there's a different level of acceptance when it comes to if you're blogging in the media world and if you are inside the White House. You're expecting Steve Bannon to act very differently.

BUSKIRK: I do. I think what's most useful for this purpose is if we're trying to figure out what's Steve Bannon going to be like as a special counselor or special adviser to the president, we should look at what he's been like on the campaign trail. And to that, I think we have to look at policy. I think we have to look at the stories and the narratives that were part and parcel of the Trump campaign over the past three or four or five months, when Bannon was involved, both formally and informally.

GREENE: Well, Donald Trump, on "60 Minutes" on CBS last night told Americans to not be afraid. He told any of his supporters who are committing hate crimes to stop it. But, I mean, should minority groups, like Muslims, people who are Jewish, be afraid reading language like that from Breitbart and now knowing that Bannon is this close to the president?

BUSKIRK: No, I don't think so. I mean, look. Let's think about this appointment. At the same time that Donald Trump - President-elect Trump - appointed Steve Bannon, he also appointed Reince Priebus, who is the most establishment of establishment-type Republicans. He's got deep ties to people, like Paul Ryan, who sometimes give Trump supporters fits. What I think that Donald Trump did here, which was politically highly intelligent and very practical, is he set up competing power centers in the sense of wanting to give something to both sides of his electoral coalition and leaving him at the top.

GREENE: Telling everyone, you have a - you have an advocate inside this White House. I mean, making everyone feel like they...

BUSKIRK: You - you have - that's right. He's bringing his own party together. And as a result of doing that, he's going to be able, I think, to work across the aisle in ways that are going to be totally unexpected.

GREENE: Is it possible - I mean, the White House chief of staff, typically in a White House, is the boss.


GREENE: I mean, is it possible that this appointment of Steve Bannon is to satisfy, you know, a certain element of Trump's supporters and say, you have a champion here, but that Reince Priebus, the more traditional Republican, is going to run things?

BUSKIRK: Yeah, I don't know. I think it remains to be seen who really is in charge. I think there really are going to be co-equals in all of these relationships. It's going to be, you know, who's probably - who's more assertive. And there's going to be internal dynamics that we're just not aware of. But I think it's smart of Trump to give something to both sides. And then, as president, he can take counsel from both sides and make the decision. That's his job as president.

GREENE: You think that's a good way to run the White House, to have those competing power structures.

BUSKIRK: I think successful presidents in the past have always done that. And I think Donald Trump, having run organizations as a top executive, is used to doing that type of thing. And, you know, there's wisdom in a multitude of counsel.

GREENE: OK. Chris Buskirk is the publisher of the conservative blog, "American Greatness." Thanks so much for coming on.

BUSKIRK: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.