Steve Bannon, one of Donald Trump’s most visible consiglieres, has been removed from the National Security Council as a permanent member. This will likely come as a relief to Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill who have argued vociferously that a political advisor to the president has no business on the nation’s top national security decision-making body.
But Bannon’s removal won’t reduce his influence on the Oval Office. With the exception of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the former chairman of Breitbart News is one of the president’s kindred spirits.
Administration officials have attempted to explain Bannon’s dismissal from the NSC as a “there’s nothing here” event. Speaking to the Washington Post after the news broke, an unnamed White House official argued that Bannon was really only included in the NSC because he was responsible for “de-operationalizing” the body from the previous Obama-era guidelines. What “de-operationalizing” means is anyone’s guess, but you can assume it has something to do with cleansing the NSC of any Obama administration influence and shifting some of the power from the White House to the national security agencies tasked with implementing the president’s orders. Micromanagement was a common complaint about President Obama’s NSC operation (former secretaries of defense Bob Gates, Leon Panetta and Chuck Hagel have all mentioned it as a problem). Bannon seems to have been tasked with loosening the reins a bit.
Still, there’s something mysterious about Bannon’s departure. It’s been reported that President Trump made the decision himself, but did anyone in Trump’s orbit recommend or encourage it? The White House is a collection of factions trying to outdo one another in order to improve their access to the Oval Office, so it’s certainly possible that Bannon’s removal was the work of a competitive power center.
In any event, Steve Bannon’s influence will stay the same. He is one of the brains behind the populism and anti-elitism that helped power Donald Trump’s general election campaign and is often described as one of the architects of Trump’s “America First” approach toward the world. Considering that Bannon reportedly never attended NSC meetings to begin with, his departure may not mean all that much in terms of his personal power and sway within the West Wing.
This is a tough time for the Trump White House, with administration officials leaking like a bursted pipe and multiple congressional investigations probing possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump needs all the loyal friends he can get. Bannon is still in that category.