So, who’s the next chief of staff going to be when John Kelly quits?
We should start kicking around ideas now because it sounds like it won’t be long. It’s going to be Christie, isn’t it? Please tell me it’s not going to be Christie.
You would think it’d be easy to address a retired Marine general who served his country with distinction in a respectful way. And yet.
President Trump was in an especially ornery mood after staff members gently suggested he refrain from injecting politics into day-to-day issues of governing after last month’s raucous rally in Arizona, and he responded by lashing out at the most senior aide in his presence.
It happened to be his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly.
Mr. Kelly, the former Marine general brought in five weeks ago as the successor to Reince Priebus, reacted calmly, but he later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country. In the future, he said, he would not abide such treatment, according to three people familiar with the exchange.
Estimates among the dozen people the NYT spoke to in terms of how much longer Kelly will stay range from a year to a month. He’s reportedly done a bang-up job of streamlining Trump’s day, reducing staff access to the Oval Office (“I now have time to think,” POTUS has been heard to say) and filtering out information from Trump’s daily reading that’s apt to send him off on a tangent, including material from Breitbart and the Daily Caller. He’s also “moved swiftly to dispatch aides he deems unqualified by temperament, experience or credential,” per the Times. The latest target: Omarosa Manigault, who’s allegedly one of the worst offenders in the White House in terms of slipping reading material to Trump that’s apt to throw him off course and derail the day’s agenda. From the Daily Beast:
The stories Manigault would present to Trump, often on a phone or printed out, would often enrage the president, and resulted in him spending at least the rest of the day fuming about it. For example, one White House source noted that Manigault was one of the people who would bring to President Trump’s attention online articles concerning MSNBC hosts, and former Trump pals, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski “slagging him, and his administration.”…
Of particular concern for Kelly were stories from conspiratorial right-wing websites that occasionally whipped Trump into a frenzy over issues such as the West Wing’s press leak problem. In Manigault’s case, sources said, the stories generally originated at more obscure, gossipy websites, and concerned White House palace intrigue, media personalities, or prominent Republicans in Congress.
Kelly can slow the flow of unvetted information to Trump but he can’t stop it. The president still has a TV in his bedroom to watch Fox News; he still has a cell phone with which to call outside advisors who lack Kelly’s approval, like Steve Bannon; and he has the Trump kids, who naturally have special access to their father. Remember, it was reportedly Don Jr who put the “cultural Marxism” memo written by NSC staffer Rich Higgins into Trump’s hands. It’s harder now for populists to whisper in the president’s ear, but not impossible. There are cracks in Kelly’s dam.
In fact, this story may produce the biggest crack yet. Keith Schiller is unknown to everyone but hardcore political news junkies, but if you’re the sort of person who follows Trump closely, you know how important he is to POTUS. He spent nearly 20 years as Trump’s bodyguard in the private sector before joining him in the White House. There may be no one outside the Trump family itself whom the president trusts more. And now he’s on his way out, ostensibly because of the pay cut he took when joining the government but possibly also because of Kelly. “Schiller has complained that he must call into the White House switchboard to reach Trump over the phone,” said one source to CNN about the post-Kelly environment. With Schiller gone, the number of original Trumpers left will be awfully small, just Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and the children. It may not be long before POTUS decides he’d rather have familiar faces around him again and a chaotic West Wing than be “managed” by Kelly, cloistered away in the Oval Office by himself.
The conventional wisdom, though, is that Kelly’s more likely to quit than be fired. Trump doesn’t want to have to go looking for a new chief of staff for the second time in as many months (especially when he has yet to fill Kelly’s vacant position at DHS). The question is whether he’ll chase Kelly away by treating him as a whipping boy. He was complimentary yesterday on Twitter:
It grieves me to say it but Christie would be an obvious choice at this point if Kelly walks. He has executive experience, relationships with people on the Hill, and Trump’s known him for years and sees him as a loyalist thanks to his early endorsement in the primaries. If Trump goes full loyalist and brings in someone like Corey Lewandowski, congressional Republicans will scoff that Corey’s a yes-man and a clown. If Trump brings in an establishment Republican in the Josh Bolten mold, Beltway GOPers will be happy but populists will not, and inevitably Trump will have the same sort of clashes with the new guy as he has with Kelly. He needs a combination of someone who’ll let him be himself and not micromanage him and someone whom establishment Republicans kinda sorta respect. Christie, right?