From the outside, it appears that Donald Trump has gotten what he wanted from hiring John Kelly as his chief of staff. Seb Gorka, who transitioned from a White House insider to outsider on Friday in a still-murky departure, tells The Hill in an interview that Trump’s not as happy with Kelly as it appears. Kelly’s regimen has cut the president off from some advisers, and left him unsatisfied with the result:
“The president currently feels to a certain extent isolated,” Gorka said. “Individuals don’t have access to him as they did in the past.
“So we know [Chief of Staff] General Kelly wanted to impose a certain regimen on the system,” he said. “But there are aspects of the new regime that the president is not satisfied with, let me leave it at that.”
Well, he did leave it, one way or another, on Friday. Which way Gorka left it might have some impact on his credibility as an analyst with insight into Trump’s happiness with Kelly, too. Gorka insists that he left on his own volition, telling Breitbart’s Matt Boyle on Saturday in his first interview that he had seen the writing on the wall for Trump’s “MAGA” policies:
“Let’s get everything on the record, I decided to resign last week,” Gorka said. …
“I don’t want to go into the palace intrigue stuff — had too much of that — but the fact is, the forces of MAGA, the Make America Great Again faces, the policy people like Steve Bannon, my old boss inside the White House, have been systematically undermined, many of them fired from the NSC,” Gorka declared.
The White House, however, left a clear impression that Gorka had not departed willingly. Multiple media outlets reported from White House sources that Gorka had been fired. MSNBC reported last night that they had obtained a Secret Service e-mails declaring Gorka persona non grata at the White House, which would be unusual for a voluntary departure:
The order appeared in an email sent at 6:45 p.m. Friday to the Secret Service Joint Operation Center and again in a separate notice 30 minutes later both obtained by MSNBC regarding Mr. Gorka’s White House status.
The initial email said that Mr. Gorka had been added to the White House visitor system’s “do not admit” list, and the second message said that Mr. Gorka likely still held a physical entry pass, as his status was revoked while he off the premises, Mr. Hayes reported.
“We spoke with two former White House staff members who said an email like this is not remotely normal, saying they had never seen a directive like this for an employee who was voluntarily departing,” Mr. Hayes said.
Even if it turns out not to be true, it certainly demonstrates the level of hostility between the White House and Gorka now. The administration is clearly unhappy with the allegations that Gorka put in his alleged resignation letter and later statements, accusing Trump of caving in to a cabal of “globalists.” Both sides are playing rhetorical hardball with each other, which is why Gorka is still discussing “palace intrigue” three days later at Kelly’s expense.
On the other hand, this is a pretty straightforward observation about Kelly:
“He’s definitely asserted control as one would expect from a military professional,” says Gorka. “The key unknown is whether his style will comport with the president’s expectations and own style.
“Look at White House history. Being an effective chief of staff is never just about efficiency. It’s far more about chemistry and commitment to the President’s vision.”
True, but the question of chemistry seems to have been settled with the departure of Bannon and Gorka — at least for now. If Trump really was unhappy and feeling isolated, he’d get rid of Kelly in a heartbeat.
However, Gorka does score a few points here on the shift in Trump’s focus now that the mantle of authority has fallen on his shoulders. One key “MAGA” promise was to call out radical Islamist terrorism at all times, and Gorka’s right that the phrase went missing in the Afghanistan speech, and somewhat inexplicably so. Why else are we fighting there, especially since Trump explicitly ruled out nation-building as an American duty? We need to get the Pashtuns to divorce themselves from their Taliban leadership and agree to keep radical Islamist terror networks from operating in Afghanistan. Absent that, we have no long-term interest in Afghanistan.
Another priority was reversing the Iran deal, and John Bolton wonders why Trump hasn’t yet fulfilled that promise either. It’s not as if alternatives don’t exist, Bolton points out:
Many outside the administration wondered how this was possible: Was Trump in control, or were his advisers? Defining a compelling rationale to exit Obama’s failed nuclear deal and elaborating a game plan to do so are quite easy. In fact, Steve Bannon asked me in late July to draw up just such a game plan for the president — the option he didn’t have — which I did.
Here it is. It is only five pages long, but like instant coffee, it can be readily expanded to a comprehensive, hundred-page playbook if the administration were to decide to leave the Iran agreement. There is no need to wait for the next certification deadline in October. Trump can and should free America from this execrable deal at the earliest opportunity.
Trump isn’t being trapped by his own advisers. Rather, Trump has made a choice to align himself with more traditional foreign-policy and national-security analysts over the outsiders and populists. Trump has always been impressed by rank and has a deep desire for acceptance within those circles, albeit on his terms. Now that he can hire (and fire) the deep thinkers in those circles, Trump has less use for the populists and nationalists who got him there. That’s not to say they won’t continue to influence him — they will, especially in elections — but they no longer have a monopoly on him.
Gorka and Bannon may only need to wait things out a bit. Trump’s mercurial moods may upend all of the changes within the White House and bring the populists back to the fore. The “do not admit” memo probably will have an expiration date of its own.