We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

"Darkness is good," Bannon told The Hollywood Reporter shortly after Trump's win. "Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That's power." Evan Vucci

What real power does Steven Bannon have in a Trump administration?

Steve Bannon is described as ‘power-hungry’, and has been given more power than most US advisors. But what can he actually do?

PEOPLE ARE PAYING more and more attention to a man who has rarely spoken in public over the past two weeks – but seems to have an extraordinary sway in the Trump White House. That man is the US president’s chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Bannon has been largely credited with Donald Trump’s election win – swooping into the campaign at a time when the television personality hadn’t gained much momentum.

Trump hasn’t stopped rewarding him: Trump recently gave Bannon a seat on the powerful National Security Council Principals Committee, an unprecedented move for a man with relatively little experience.

So what power does Bannon have, and what else can we expect from Trump’s closest advisors?

Some academics have been speaking to to find out just how much influence a chief strategist has – and how different Bannon is from previous advisors.

Who is Steve Bannon?

Trump Alt Right Evan Vucci / PA Images Evan Vucci / PA Images / PA Images

Steve Bannon is a former US Navy officer and Harvard MBA who left behind Goldman Sachs and investment banking, capitalised on an entertainment deal that left him with a share of Seinfeld royalties, founded an institute to ferret out government corruption and created a number of his own films, including paeans to Sarah Palin, the tea party movement and Ronald Reagan.

Bannon took over Breitbart News after the sudden death of its founder in 2012 left people wondering what would become of the website.

Brietbart News had a racist-charged history before Bannon took charge – choosing and framing stories around white-racial panic. It also used to have a ‘black crime’ section.

According to Breitbart News, it does perpetuate white supremacy. When compared to neo-Nazis before, the website said “white skinheads are dumb, and we’re smart” – suggesting the only difference is an intellectual one.

Under Bannon’s guidance, Breitbart grew into one the right’s most powerful voices as it took on establishment Republicans like House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Critics, however, accused Bannon of allowing the website to become a platform for the white nationalist sentiments of the alt-right – a charge Bannon has denied.

His politics appear to skew closer to European, right-wing populist views than the typical American conservative agenda. He’s described himself as an “economic nationalist” and has long advocated for closing off the nation’s borders.

He hasn’t done many interviews since joining Trump’s campaign, so what we know is based on old interviews – and they’re quite telling.

The most notable quote from him came in an interview with Ronald Radosh:

He never called himself a “populist” or an “American nationalist”, as so many think of him today. “I’m a Leninist,” Bannon proudly proclaimed.
Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.

When Radosh contacted him afterwards, Bannon said they had never met and denied making the remarks.

So how much power does he have?

Trump Evan Vucci / PA Images Evan Vucci / PA Images / PA Images

As Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, Bannon has a hand in crafting the president’s inaugural address and in selecting his Cabinet, and bringing in aides from his conservative media empire.

“The role as a chief strategist is a new position,” says Emanuel Coman, lecturer in political sciences at Trinity College Dublin.

It’s a first time that a campaign manager seems to have been given the same value as a Cabinet secretary.

“The role of the senior advisor is not particularly well-defined by law,” adds David Fitzgerald, lecturer in International Politics, at the School of History UCC.

He says that although the name and the prominence of the role changes with each administration, usually the appointed campaign manager serves as the president’s conscience after the election, reminding him what he promised during a campaign.

Every president will treat their advisor differently – you couldnt look up a dictionary definition of what he does.

Fitzgerald says that Bannon’s role as chief strategist is already different from senior advisors, as his role in drafting executive orders would be unusual – that is normally the job of the Federal agencies.

“He doesn’t have to, but Trump’s supposed to take expert advice on decisions,” says Coman. “Bannon seems to be the most influential person when it comes to decisions taken by Donald Trump.

The administration also seems to have an aversion to expertise; take the order on immigration – it was written poorly, they didn’t ask advice about how to draft an order and it caused confusion in the federal courts.

Even more unusual is Bannon’s placement to the National Security Council which drew howls from Democrats and even some Republicans. Bernie Sanders called it “dangerous and unprecedented”.

“Even George Bush wouldn’t let his chief advisor Karl Rove near the National Security Council, as it’s seen as being meant for senior experienced politicians,” says Fitzgerald, adding that Bannon’s influence will depend greatly on how long he’ll be in that role.

There are a lot of parallels between this early administration and Richard Nixon’s, Fitzgerald believes.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw something like Watergate again (because of their paranoia and personalities). I think we’ll see them using federal agencies to go after people, and the agencies can resist, but only a little.”

“Wait until the midterm of 2018, based on history there will probably be a swing back to the Democrats, there are all sorts of scopes for investigations into Trump [that will come to light by then].

“It’s not really clear if Bannon’s influencing Trump or if Trump picked him because of his views – remember Trump promised a Muslim ban before Bannon was involved,” Coman says.

What people have said about Bannon

Campaign 2016 Trump Evan Vucci / PA Images Evan Vucci / PA Images / PA Images

Former deputy campaign manager David Bossie, who introduced Trump to Bannon in 2011, says the two got to know each other as Trump appeared multiple times on Bannon’s Breitbart radio show over the years.

“They believe in each other’s agendas, which is why they have grown so close,” says Bossie.

Still, the two are an unusual match. While Trump is not an avid reader, Bossie describes Bannon as “a carnivore of books” who’s always reading and talking history – ancient Greece, the Civil War and World War II.

“He wants to be the intellectual, strategist bomb-thrower,” says former House speaker and informal Trump adviser Newt Gingrich. “He does not want to be the guy who makes the trains run on time.”

Critics see more self-interest than devotion to conservatism in Bannon’s history.

“He’s really good at ingratiating himself to prominent people,” says Ben Shapiro, a former Breitbart editor who’s now a Bannon critic.

After Breitbart died, adds Shapiro, Bannon began using the website to promote Trump – “and then he was able to use that to enter into the halls of power.”

Another critic, Ben Howe, a filmmaker and conservative blogger who once considered Bannon a mentor and friend, says that while Bannon cultivates the unassuming, rumpled look in public, “he’s nothing like that behind the scenes,” talking nonstop and screaming at those who cross him.

Bannon, he says, “just looks at Trump as a good vehicle to get into power so that he can accomplish his objectives”.


PastedImage-57405 Time Time

In its latest cover story, Time magazine calls him ‘The Great Manipulator’, Trump’s alter-ego and a true believer. In his profile David Von Drehle also asks whether he is the second most powerful man in the world. Quoting a ‘longtime Trump ally’, he writes:

Trump is the one deciding which items to tick off. ‘Bannon’s just smart enough to give him the list.’

With reporting by AP 

Read: Trump hires head of a right-wing website in latest campaign reshuffle

Read: Trump’s new campaign chief was charged with domestic violence

Readers like you are keeping these stories free for everyone...
A mix of advertising and supporting contributions helps keep paywalls away from valuable information like this article. Over 5,000 readers like you have already stepped up and support us with a monthly payment or a once-off donation.

Your Voice
Readers Comments
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.