President Donald Trump kicked top adviser Steve Bannon off the National Security Council Wednesday, but experts said it probably doesn’t signal much change in the president’s unconventional administration.
“We need more information to know, but it's probable that the change is mainly symbolic,” said Dr. Richard K. Betts of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Bannon’s appointment to the NSC – an important policy driving, cabinet-level committee – stirred waves of controversy in the political arena. Never before had a political strategist sat in this position.
In appointing Bannon in January, Trump also demoted the director of National Intelligence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, another shakeup that drew the ire of those who thought Bannon was being given too much power and influence.
The former executive at the right-wing Breitbart News website is self-described as “anti-establishment” and “anti-administrative state.” His ideology pushes him to come down strong on jihadist terrorism, and to protect the U.S. economy from globalism and free trade – even at the risk of isolating the U.S., according to a CNN report.
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Bannon has been considered to be one of Trump’s most trusted advisers and is thought to have steered Trump toward dumping the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal. He is seen as the architect of Trump’s immigration ban on six predominantly Muslim countries – two so-far defining feats of the Trump administration, and he probably influenced the deep cuts proposed to domestic programs in the president’s budget.
His removal from the NSC this week had pundits wondering if it could be seen as proof of his waning influence.
Maybe, but Betts, who also serves as director of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies in New York, said appearances can be deceiving.
It could be a way for Trump to calm controversies without much consequence, he said.
“In principle it reaffirms the professionalism of people in the formal structure, as distinct from Bannon's highly political function, but in practice Bannon can be intimately involved, ad hoc, in all the issues that come before the NSC if the President wants him involved,” Betts said.
During the fallout Wednesday, The New York Times reported Bannon was unhappy with his removal, and even threated to quit. The Bannon camp of course denied these allegations, instead claiming his work on the NSC was done now that embattled National Security Adviser Mike Flynn was out, replaced by Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster.