“I’m in it for the long haul,” he told Bret Baier last night about his tenure as chief of staff. We’ll see about that.
The president is annoyed.
Various papers reported yesterday that Kelly had told the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that Trump hadn’t been “fully informed” about immigration policy when he was making promises about the wall as a candidate and that he’d “evolved” on the issues to some extent. That’s what inspired Trump’s grumbly tweets this morning. But if you believe the Times, Kelly went further than that with the CHC. He took credit for pushing Trump towards the middle. Lesson one of working for POTUS, as Steve Bannon would tell you: Do not take credit for anything. The credit is Trump’s alone.
But in telling lawmakers that Mr. Trump had essentially erred from the start in promoting a wall and by claiming credit for dissuading him, Mr. Kelly appeared to be voicing a sentiment some in the West Wing have heard him express privately — that it is his job to tutor a sometimes ill-informed president who has never served in public office before…
Mr. Kelly told lawmakers that “he was the one who tempered” Mr. Trump “on the issue of the wall, on the issue of DACA,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, who attended the session…
Mr. Gutiérrez told reporters that at the meeting, Mr. Kelly said that during the presidential campaign, “there were statements made about the wall that were not informed statements.”
Kelly had an easy out available to him: FAKE NEWS! I never said any of that, he could have told Trump. The Democrats are just making things up to embarrass the White House because they’re annoyed that the DACA negotiations have dried up.
But no. He went on Trump’s favorite TV network last night and essentially affirmed everything he was accused of saying. The president wasn’t necessarily fully informed on immigration during the campaign and he’s since “evolved” somewhat on the wall and DACA. (All candidates are somewhat uninformed before taking office, he noted, to lessen the personal affront to Trump.)
.@WhiteHouse Chief of Staff John Kelly: "[@realDonaldTrump] has evolved in the way he has looked at things. Campaign to governing are two different things and this president has been very, very flexible in terms of what is within the realm of the possible." #SpecialReport pic.twitter.com/eW98HeGi7q
— Fox News (@FoxNews) January 17, 2018
Is he … trying to get fired? A source told Axios before Trump started tweeting defensively this morning that he would end up hitting the roof over Kelly’s remarks:
Late last night, a few hours after Fox News aired Bret Baier’s interview with John Kelly, a source close to the president told me Trump would explode when he saw what his chief of staff said. The source — who has spent a lot of time with Trump — predicted the president would hate the interview because Kelly came off as the mature professional who patiently educated an uninformed Trump, and helped him see the light and evolve on “The Wall.”…
“Kelly has finally ventured into Steve Bannon territory when it comes to trying to create the perception that he’s the ‘great manipulator,’ saving the country from Trump’s ignorance. The difference is, Steve tried to develop that reputation in off-the-record conversations with reporters. Kelly did it openly on the country’s most-watched cable network. It’s the subtle difference between hubris and arrogance.”
And sure enough:
.@kaitlancollins reports: President Trump was fuming after chief of staff John Kelly said in an interview on Fox News that the president’s views on the wall and immigration had “evolved” since he took office. Trump “hated” Kelly’s comments, a source tells her.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) January 18, 2018
The worst part is that Kelly’s giving Trump a bad rap. It’s true that he’s not a model of constancy on immigration — sometimes not even for the duration of a single meeting — but I remember him saying at times during the campaign that the wall wouldn’t necessarily be a coast-to-coast structure nor would it need to be. That’s the supposed ignorance that Kelly helped correct, “tutoring” POTUS on the fact that fencing and natural barriers would be adequate substitutes for a wall in certain places along the border. But Trump already knew that. Byron York went digging and found seven different occasions on which Trump himself noted that a wall isn’t required along the entire stretch. The earliest came less than 10 days after he declared his candidacy.
So what is Kelly up to, then? Why antagonize Trump needlessly, particularly when the president’s right that he’s done less “evolving” on the wall than Kelly suggests?