On the evening of Friday, February 10, Ruddy shared a drink with the president at Mar-a-Lago. Two days later, he went on Brian Stelter’s CNN show and delivered a shot across the bow to the president’s chief of staff. "I think Reince Priebus, good guy, well-intentioned, but he clearly doesn't know how the federal agencies work,” he said. “He doesn't have a real good system. He doesn't know how the communications flow."
Ruddy’s comments sparked a media frenzy. Was he speaking for the president? Had Trump said this to him?
The walk-back came later that same day, with Ruddy tweeting “Reince just briefed me on new WH plans. Impressive! CNN today my personal view. Told him I have 'open mind' based on his results.”
Ruddy told me the president had not spoken to him about Priebus at Mar-a-Lago. “The president I’d seen on Friday night after the Abe dinner, we had a drink together,” Ruddy said. “It was never raised, Reince.”
“I was just giving my opinion, I’ve done that always,” Ruddy said. And the incident hasn’t discouraged him from doing so; in my interview with him, Ruddy speculated that Trump might not run for a second term, arguing that “certain people need it emotionally. I don’t think he needs it emotionally.”
According to Ruddy, Trump appreciates his media efforts on his behalf. After a CNN appearance in December, he said, Trump “called me a few days later during my Christmas party and said ‘Thank you, I can’t always go on these shows and defend myself.’”
And the weekend after the controversy over Priebus, Ruddy was spotted having dinner with Trump, Priebus, and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon in Palm Beach.
Newsmax took Trump seriously early on, well before he finally followed through with his oft-repeated threats to run for president. “No disrespect to Breitbart—before there was Breitbart, there was Newsmax,” said the Republican pollster Tony Fabrizio, who is friends with Ruddy and worked on Trump’s campaign. “Before the president was probably an avid reader of Breitbart he was an avid reader of Newsmax. Chris and the president developed a relationship several years ago primarily through and with Newsmax.”
“The only outlets who took us seriously were Newsmax, Breitbart, and Fox News,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump adviser. “And even Fox News wasn’t that serious about him running, they would just have him on out of ratings. Our two major outlets were Newsmax and Breitbart.”
For Nunberg, Breitbart was useful as the ideological messenger that would fight for Trump’s agenda. But Newsmax was where Trump was able to refine his political image as an outsider, entrepreneur, and independent Republican over the course of several years.
“Breitbart was stronger on immigration but Newsmax overall—I thought it was more helpful for shaping [Trump’s] overall political profile,” Nunberg said.