President Trump has done something no other previous president has done. He elevated a political adviser–Assistant to the President and Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon–to a permanent, standing principal position on the National Security Council.
Yet Trump defenders argue that it’s been done before. Press Secretary Sean Spicer specifically mentioned David Axelrod, one of former President Obama’s advisers, as being part of Obama’s NSC.
“David Axelrod walked in and out of NSC meetings quite frequently,” Spicer said. And that’s true. But he wasn’t one of the principals. Bannon is.
NPR fact-checked the source documents for Trump, Obama (2009), and Bush 43 (2001). It turns out that Axelrod was in fact not one of the principals. Trump included 9 people as “regular attendees,” Secretaries of State, Treasury, Defense, Homeland Security, the Attorney General, plus Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Bannon, and Homeland Security Advisor Tom Bossert.
In comparison, Obama had 12 on his NSC Principals Committee, and Bush had only five. In practice there were many more regular attendees to Bush’s meetings, post 9/11. Neither Bush nor Obama had a chief strategist position, but neither appointed a purely political adviser to the NSC core group (Chief of Staff is an operational position within the Executive Office of the President).
Maybe we’re splitting hairs here, because we really don’t know who will and who won’t be at most meetings. But it’s certainly not a “normal” procedure to place a political strategist on the NSC’s standing members. I stand by my original take that this is dangerous from a groupthink perspective.
Bannon may have been instrumental in winning the election for Trump, giving him a direct line to the pulse of his core supporters. But national security issues aren’t a matter of listening to supporters and doing whatever is popular. We shouldn’t (I certainly hope we won’t) see Trump go on television and ask “America, should we bomb Syria? Should we?” like candidate Trump did regarding his medical records on Dr. Oz. Bannon simply feeds into Trump’s worst attribute–his ginormous ego.
As arguments go, I haven’t heard a single persuasive one on why Bannon should be a standing principal on Trump’s NSC. Citing David Axelrod or other presidents as an example doesn’t hold any water at all.