OXON HILL, Md. — The Conservative Political Action Conference on Thursday will cheer the first Republican White House officials to attend the gathering 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 desire to “maintain a running dialogue with his supporters” and 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.
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But others confide that the administration is also seizing this opportunity to allay suspicions that senior White House aides are at war with each other. It’s deploying them to deliver a single message to conference-goers and to reporters who have cast Trump’s inner circle as an ill-matcher group of power seekers at war with each other.
“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.
“It’s a brilliant move,” O’Connell said. “There’s always skeptics out there so this gives them a chance to speak directly to those individuals and at the same time try to bring in new converts to the administration.”
Since its inception in 1973, CPAC has become a tradition for Republican presidents to send their most trusted aides to speak or make appearances of their own. One month after President George W. Bush was inaugurated, Vice President Dick Cheney and White House chief strategist Karl Rove received high marks for their separate speeches to CPAC attendees.
“Rove noted the delicious irony of his appearance, recalling that as chairman of the College Republicans he was dispatched by the Gerald Ford-dominated Republican National Committee to be their sacrificial lamb at CPAC 1975, and he went on to give a vigorously delivered conservative message that was well received by the audience,” Human Events wrote in a 2003 essay marking the 30th anniversary of the annual conservative conference. “Cheney was also a hit when he spoke at the presidential banquet.”
This post originally appeared on Washington Examiner