Technically we’re still seven and a half hours away from a full year but when you’ve enjoyed the job as much as Kelly has you can be forgiven for celebrating early. Here’s to the chief on 12 months of love, laughs, and fun in the West Wing!
According to Gabriel Sherman, he’s marking the occasion by informing Trump that if he wants him out of there, he’s going to have to fire him.
Earlier this year, Trump sidelined Kelly and openly called him a “nutjob” to friends, basically governing as if Kelly wasn’t there. Sources said Trump’s humiliation of Kelly had an intent: to get Kelly to quit.
The problem for Trump is that Kelly appears to be burrowing in rather than stepping away. Earlier this month, Kelly went to the Oval Office and told Trump, “I intend to leave on my own timeline,” according to two Republicans familiar with the conversation. One Republican familiar with Kelly’s thinking said Kelly’s view is that it would be more humiliating to quit than stay, even though he’s become irrelevant in the job.
The stalemate has produced a petty and toxic environment in the West Wing, where Kelly at times seems to be working at cross-purposes to his boss, and Trump openly mocks him.
How … could it possibly be more humiliating for Kelly to quit at this point than to hang around? Every week brings new stories like Sherman’s describing him as a chief in name only, a man prone to working out in the middle of the day now because he’s no longer needed in the West Wing. Sherman himself claims elsewhere that “West Wing aides … have taken to leaving Kelly off the calendar for meetings” and that Trump has begun delegating personnel decisions to Bill Shine instead. Kelly’s most prominent adversaries in the White House, Jared and Ivanka, are allegedly digging in too, leaving him with little hope of clawing back influence over Trump. Literally no one would fault him for throwing in the towel and retiring rather than sticking around and being demeaned in ways petty and large just to deny Trump the satisfaction of making him quit.
Because that’s what this is ultimately about, right? Pride. Trump allegedly won’t fire Kelly because he respects his four-star Marine pedigree too much — just not enough to refrain from freezing him out of important business and turning him into a laughingstock. And Kelly may feel that it would be unbecoming for a Marine, let alone a top Marine, to quit on the commander-in-chief even though he’s been reduced to the bureaucratic equivalent of peeling potatoes. It’s also possible too, I suppose, that Kelly is staying put for strategic reasons, because he fears that he’d be replaced as chief of staff by a dope or a lackey who’d indulge Trump’s worst tendencies rather than do what little he can to check them. Trump should just fire him. If Obama could fire Stanley McChrystal for backbiting by McChrystal’s staff, Trump could thank Kelly for a year of service and politely say that he wants to go in a different direction.
As for likely replacements, Politico reported a few days ago that Trump is taking a close look at Mick Mulvaney, his go-to guy thus far as president when a vacancy arises. But keep your eye on Shine in light of what Sherman wrote about him assuming a more important role in personnel decisions. Shine was briefly president of Fox News (he’s a Hannity buddy) and Trump is every inch a Fox News consumer; he and Shine would make a logical match in a way that he and Kelly never did. Here’s CNN reporting yesterday on Shine’s growing influence.