President Donald Trump makes decisions by putting “the game plan on the table so people can see it and they can freak out about it” before he “systematically” negotiates each piece, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said Monday on Fox News’ “The Ingraham Angle.”
Some Republican lawmakers, journalists and free trade advocates were upset when Trump announced new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports to protect American industries and reduce trade deficits. There were also worries sparked by reports that Trump accepted on a whim North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet.
But Priebus strongly argued that Trump made neither of those two decisions flippantly, noting that the president has a particular method of approaching issues.
“You do what President Trump does, which is — if you see carefully what he’s doing — is he puts the chips on the table,” he said. “He puts the game plan on the table, so people can see it and they can freak out about it. But then what he does is, systematically, he negotiates each piece.”
When it comes to the tariffs, Priebus said that Trump, in putting the issue directly on the table, is “going to be able to negotiate with these countries like he’s always wanted to do — one by one bilaterally.”
Priebus emphasized that Trump “chooses on his own to put people around him that don’t agree with each other on major, major things. So even when I was there … [tariffs weren’t] something that the president suddenly came up with, and then, ‘Oh my God, he just went out with the tariffs out of nowhere.’ This was debated from before the inauguration.”
The former chief of staff said that the Trump staff debated “week after week after week” on the tariffs.
“And [Trump] got pretty ticked off a few times at the staff and said, ‘Hey, where are my tariffs?'” he said. “This was not something that just came about. He has been debating it forever.”
Priebus, a former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), served in the Trump White House from January through July of 2017. He was among a succession of high-profile administration officials who left for a variety of reasons. More recently, White House director of communications Hope Hicks and Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn resigned.
Trump’s tariffs were the impetus behind Cohn’s resignation. Fox News host Laura Ingraham said Cohn disagrees with many of Trump’s conservative-populist policies. Priebus argued that it isn’t “a bad thing” that Trump insists on having officials with different ideological and political world views advising him on policy issues.
“Some White Houses have the same species of people — everyone’s the same,” he said. “[Trump] has no problem putting natural predators together, and let them bring their A-game and fight it out, and then he makes his decision.”
“In the end, if it’s close, he’s going to go with his gut,” Priebus added. “Regardless of what people in the media like to write about the drama and the chaos — the president would be very bored if everyone came in and said, ‘You’re right. Let’s just do it this way.'”
Priebus emphasized that Trump decides “nothing major” without first receiving input from his advisers.
“People come in [the Oval Office], they stand around his desk, he allows the argument to take place, they fight it out,” the former chief of staff said. “But what the media focuses in on is the process of the argument, as opposed to the decision. And that is really what I would always try to remind people do to. Focus in on the decision.”
When Trump seemed to abruptly accept Kim’s request for a meeting, Priebus said the “narrative on that got out of the gate all wrong” because Trump didn’t “just on a whim” decide to accept the offer. Trump had high-ranking administration officials in his office with him when the South Korean officials approached him with Kim’s request.
“I think people just run with the narrative and don’t realize that the president isn’t just making these decisions in a vacuum,” Priebus said. “So these are things that I think the American people need to know.”
Priebus said Tuesday’s special congressional election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district — which Trump won handily in 2016 — is dangerously close between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone, but he expects a GOP win.
“I think it’s going to be really hard for the Democrats to pull this off. I think they may be overhyping this a little bit,” he said. “I think the Republicans are playing this pretty well by setting expectations that, you know, that they may lose.”
“But really what this is going to be about … is turnout,” Priebus added, likening the district to a full GOP bowl of popcorn and a two-thirds full Democrat bowl.
“But here’s the thing: Republicans have a full bowl to turn out. If they do a really poor job and say only turn out two-thirds, and the Democrats do a great job and get every single person out, then they can win,” he said.
“The one thing about it being a referendum on Trump — you have to throw that one out. Because if Donald Trump was on the ballot today in that district, he’d win the district.”