Arguing Other Presidents Appointed Political Advisers to NSC Holds No Water

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.

For Trump to Succeed, Bannon Must Go

Stephen Bannon – White House “Svengali” – probably doesn’t even know my name anymore but we’ve traveled in the same circles for years and I was even once informed by a Breitbart insider that I was put on a “private” list banning my name from coverage at the website, presumably for some less-than-complimentary comments I’ve made in the past regarding their direction. I only mention this to say that while I’ve never been a fan of Bannon’s the last thing I’ve ever thought he was is racist and I reject this alt-right nonsense whole-heartedly. I think the charges are hysterical and ridiculous and without proof. Those getting their panties in a bunch over his presence in the White House lending legitimacy to the “alt-right” are making much ado about nothing.

He might be a jerk. He’s no racist.

That being said, Bannon is not only not a racist, he’s also not a politician, lawyer or experienced leader at the national level. His qualifications for running anything inside the White House are spotty at best. I recognize that we elected President Trump on the strength of his “outsider” qualities, but as the head of a national blog outlet, Bannon’s qualifications for a seat on the National Security Council (NSC) go way beyond “outsider” status.

He’s downright unqualified.

Still, a case can be made by his biggest fans that his “outsider” status is what is most desirable and he is a good candidate for the position because he is not influenced by Capitol Hill mindsets. I disagree, but I understand the argument.

However, qualified or not, raging maniac or misunderstood aide, for the sake of the presidency and the peace of mind of Americans Bannon needs to be ousted from any official White House position. Yes, much of the media coverage of him has been unfair. It is sadly reminiscent of how the media viewed Dick Cheney, as if George Bush hadn’t one thought in his head that was his own. That is insulting and ridiculous and certainly applies to Trump and Bannon no less than it applied to Bush and Cheney. You don’t get to be the President of the United States by being a total dolt. I don’t care what you think of the president…it can’t happen. There is too much involved in getting to the highest office in the land. An idiot cannot be propelled there by staff alone.

Bannon has no experience on the international scene. Sure, he knows what he wants to see as an American, but international relations are delicate and nuanced. Bannon has neither the background nor the sensitivity to effectively navigate these waters. Worse, most of America understands that. People are scared. If I believed every single word the mainstream media printed about Trump and Bannon I’d be scared too. Luckily it’s my job to know more than my own point of view and I understand 90% of this mass hysteria is due to media malpractice. It is dangerous and irresponsible of them to call these new temporary travel restrictions a “Muslim ban” and yet they are still happy to light the match and walk away from the inferno.

Regardless, Bannon isn’t just dangerously inexperienced, he engenders a sense of unease across a wide swath of the American public.

Since the night of his historic election, President Trump has repeatedly said that he is the president for all Americans, and that now is a time to unite. I applaud his desire to take swift action on our unsettling immigration issues, but putting a guy like Stephen Bannon in a position of authority on national security is the wrong move to unite a country that is on very shaky ground right now when it comes to unity.

I urge the President to continue to move forward with his promises on immigration reform, but to remove Bannon from the equation. This would go a long way to ease the fears of the American citizenry (as much as possible in the face of a hostile mainstream media, anyway). It will signal that he is willing to compromise in ways that don’t necessarily compromise his agenda while at the same time symbolizing his willingness to represent all Americans.

Taking Bannon off the NSC and out of the White House might not even change much in the way of Trump’s plans, but it would go a long way to alleviate some legitimate concerns about the hasty executions of his immigration orders.

Bannon’s place is in the media, fighting against the tide of mainstream bias. He should be commended for helping to propel Trump to the Oval Office. Now his place should be back among the media, mining his White House connections for advantage in coverage and access and ushering in a new era of the press.

Trump will never quell the outrage of those determined to hate him no matter what he does, but he can prove he’s the President he promised to be by making a small concession here and there that doesn’t affect his overall mandate. Dropping Bannon from the NSC would be a great place to start.

Correction: Stephen Bannon’s educational and service experience includes a master’s in National Security Studies from Georgetown University. While the author stands by the assertion of this op-ed, Mr. Bannon’s missing qualifications should be noted.