Kelly on His Way Out as Chief of Staff?

Kelly on His Way Out as Chief of Staff? January 23, 2018

It seems that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly’s statement to members of Congress that Donald Trump’s views on the border wall during the campaign were “uninformed” has gotten him in some hot water with his boss. Gabe Sherman reports that Trump wants to replace him and Ivanka is in charge of the search for a replacement.


But the prospect of a Trump-Kelly rupture became more probable as news of their clashes over immigration leaked. Last week, Kelly reportedly infuriated Trump when he told Fox News that Trump had “evolved” on his position to build a southern border wall. Kelly further catalyzed Trump’s ire when he told Democratic lawmakers that Trump was “uninformed” when he made his campaign promise to build the wall. The next morning Trump rebutted his chief of staff with a tweet: “The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it.”

Trump’s anger at Kelly’s immigration comments is the latest flare-up in a relationship that has been deteriorating for months. A four-star marine general, Kelly was never going to be an easy fit in a West Wing with a Lord of the Flies office culture. Staffers have bristled at Kelly’s rectitude, nicknaming him “the Church Lady,” a former official said.

Trump has increasingly been chafing at the media narrative that he needs Kelly to instill discipline on his freewheeling management style. “The more Kelly plays up that he’s being the adult in the room—that it’s basically combat duty and he’s serving the country—that kind of thing drives Trump nuts,” a Republican close to the White House said. In recent days, Trump has fumed to friends that Kelly acts like he’s running the government while Trump tweets and watches television. “I’ve got another nut job here who thinks he’s running things,” Trump told one friend, according to a Republican briefed on the call. A second source confirmed that Trump has vented about Kelly, mentioning one call in which Trump said, “This guy thinks he’s running the show.”

We’ve never had a president who needed to be “handled” — placated, steered, manipulated — into getting out of his own way as much as Donald Trump, but he also hates even the hint that he’s being handled. It’s a toxic mix of total arrogance and massive insecurity. So convinced is he of his own omniscience that he cannot abide the notion that anyone else could ever influence him. And yet evidence of such influence abounds and we see it at work. As long as he remains oblivious to how he’s being handled, things are fine; if he figures it out, whoever is doing it is in trouble.

By all accounts, Trump spends an inordinate amount of time on the phone venting to friends, who often feed his own worst instincts. As I’ve said before, we’ve never seen a president, certainly since Nixon and probably ever, whose personal character flaws show themselves so glaringly for all to see, and which clearly affect his ability to govern. It’s like some sort of social experiment where you give power to the absolute last person who should ever have power then see how it goes. And it isn’t going well.

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