He’s quoted frequently in Bob Woodward’s scathing book about President Donald Trump — using harsh language for Trump’s “nasty and bloody” White House — but former chief of staff Reince Priebus told a group of Illinois Republicans Tuesday night that he’s proud of the results produced by the commander-in-chief.
“He takes control of the operation,” Priebus said. “People perceive this as — you know, look, I use to joke to people that I didn’t call myself the chief of staff. I was the chief of stuff. Because the president was the chief of staff, and he was the [communications] director.
“But he did it, and I think it’s about time that the press gives the president his due and look at the results and quit reporting on the daily gossip, grind minutiae and really look at what’s happening in this country. Because it’s a good thing.”
In Woodward’s book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” Priebus calls Trump’s bedroom — where the president tweets — “the devil’s workshop,” and early mornings and Sunday nights “the witching hour,” according to a New York Times book review. Priebus is also quoted describing the chaos in the White House: “When you put a snake and a rat and a falcon and a rabbit and a shark and a seal in a zoo without walls, things start getting nasty and bloody. That’s what happens.”
But Priebus, who is now president and chief strategist at Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, fended off criticisms of the president during a speech at Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin’s annual fundraiser at the Peninsula Chicago. Chicago mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy and Gov. Bruce Rauner were in attendance.
Of the collection of people he assembled in his administration, Priebus said Trump “has the guts to allow these folks to fight it out, learn from the best people and make a decision.”
The timing was uncanny. Woodward’s book was released on Tuesday and features a collection of former Trump staffers, including Priebus, who spent six months as White House chief of staff; former chief economic adviser Gary D. Cohn and Trump’s former staff secretary Rob Porter. Woodward does not identify former staffers as his sources but vividly describes some of their thoughts and actions.
“We do have a few press people here so I’m going to keep my comments rated G,” Priebus said to laughs, saying Woodward’s approach was “wrong.”
Countering Woodward’s characterization of chaos in the White House, Priebus credited Trump as a “president who is willing to put polar opposite leaders together.”
“We had Gary Cohn, Wilbur Ross, Steve Bannon, Steve Miller. I mean, these are opposite — people of opposite views but are nonetheless very smart,” Priebus said. “And the president has the guts to allow these folks to fight it out, learn from the best people and make a decision. And the press reports on what they perceive to be the chaos. But the president of the United States makes decisions through the Socratic method, allows people to argue it out and makes those decisions.”
Priebus said Trump should get credit for cutting of regulations and for his Supreme Court and other judicial appointments.
“While all the books were being written, all of the issues that people want to talk about on 24/7 cable, I just got to say, you look at the results of this president,” Priebus said. “You look at the economy. You look at jobs you look at wage growth. You look at ISIS. You look at regulation. … If you’re a Republican, or even an independent, you’ve got to love the results of what President Trump is doing.”
Priebus spoke briefly at a closed-door event before his main remarks to the crowd, and sources said he told the crowd of his close relationship with Trump, saying he still speaks with the president frequently.
Rauner spoke briefly to the crowd, saying he had to attend to another dinner and speech. But the embattled Republican governor told the state’s Republicans that the Illinois House “is the barricade against a massive new income tax hike in the state of Illinois.”
Rauner vowed to “hold the governorship,” and fight against a graduated income tax proposed by his Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker.
And the governor made a rare mention of Trump — although not my name — as he tries to pick up a bloc of conservative voters who instead voted for state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the March primary.
“Even though the president unfortunately lost Illinois, we picked up four seats in the House, two seats in the Senate two years ago. And we’re going to put together the biggest ground game in Illinois history this election cycle. We’re going to work our tails off and pick up more seats in the House.”
Durkin gave a shout-out to McCarthy, who is one of more than a dozen announced candidates in the mayoral race.
While the mayoral race is nonpartisan and McCarthy has been critical of Trump, Durkin told the crowd “everybody here, including these Republicans, love the city of Chicago.”
“We want Chicago to succeed. And we’re going to do it under the right circumstances under the right people. I want to introduce somebody here tonight, a gentleman I’ve known for a number of years. He’s a good friend of our family He’s not thinking of running for mayor. He is running for mayor,” Durkin said of McCarthy.