The guy was in the Corps for 40 years and met every challenge, eventually becoming a four-star general. Eleven months as Trump’s chief of staff and he’s a broken man.
Alternate theory: This is BS, leaked by a Kelly enemy inside the White House to embarrass him and the president. As recently as yesterday a rumor leaked to CNN that Sarah Sanders didn’t want to appear at the White House press briefing to defend Trump’s separation policy and had enlisted Kirstjen Nielsen to do the briefing instead. Surprise: Sanders was at the briefing after all and took over after Nielsen was done answering questions on immigration. And she made a point of reminding CNN that they were guilty of fake news when her turn at the mic came.
What if Politico’s reporting is accurate, though, and Kelly has essentially thrown in the towel? Is America ready for full MAGA?
White House chief of staff John Kelly advised Nielsen against doing the news conference, but she charged ahead anyway, according to a senior administration official…
Kelly’s status in the White House has changed in recent months, and he and the president are now seen as barely tolerating one another. According to four people close to Kelly, the former Marine general has largely yielded his role as the enforcer in the West Wing as his relationship with Trump has soured. While Kelly himself once believed he stood between Trump and chaos, he has told at least one person close to him that he may as well let the president do what he wants, even if it leads to impeachment — at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.
In recent months, his Secret Service detail has often been spotted standing outside the gym in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in the middle of the day — and White House officials who pass it on the way to meetings view his late morning workouts as an indication of him having thrown in the towel on trying to have any control inside the West Wing.
Maybe he was joking about the impeachment thing? Nope, says Politico reporter Eliana Johnson:
FWIW, it wasn’t a joke, according to my source, who said his attitude is let the shit hit the fan, make Corey chief of staff, instruct Cabinet secretaries to do things that are illegal — so be it.
— Eliana Johnson (@elianayjohnson) June 19, 2018
If you’re looking for reasons to doubt this anecdote, here’s an easy one. If Kelly were really that unhappy and even nihilistic about his job, what’s stopping him from quitting? Typically the argument against cabinet members doing that is that they’ll be replaced by someone who’s Trumpier and probably less qualified, and therefore they owe it to the country to hang in there until Trump dismisses them. But if Politico’s right, Kelly’s past that. He doesn’t care about trying to prevent chaos anymore, realizing now that it can’t be prevented. If anything, he seems to be hoping for more in hopes that it’ll bring Trump down. So quit, let Trump appoint Judge Jeanine to be chief of staff, and let him burn the place to the ground. And if the counter is that Kelly’s staying put to try to protect Nielsen, well, that’s even more reason to quit. Nielsen’s going to be left holding the bag on child separation when Trump inevitably retreats from it or Congress overrules him. The best thing Kelly could do for his protege would be to stand aside and let Trump fire her for being “soft,” as that might salvage her reputation in professional Washington.
If you’re looking for reasons to believe Politico’s anecdote, though, there are plenty of those too. Reports of Trump and Kelly being at odds have swirled since the day he took the job last summer. But if there was a breaking point in their relationship, it seems to have come early this year with the Rob Porter mess and the time Kelly went on Fox News to discuss immigration and suggested that Trump sometimes didn’t know what he was talking about during the campaign. POTUS didn’t like that. On top of that, as Trump has become more comfortable in the job and seized opportunities to impose his will, as with tariffs, he seems to have grown to resent the idea of having a gatekeeper. Kelly was useful to him while he was getting his sea legs as president. Now that he feels more assured in steering the ship, Kelly’s just a pain in his ass.
For months Trump has reportedly been cutting him out of phone calls and ignoring his advice. For his part, Kelly’s alleged to have told people that Trump is an “idiot” and that the White House is a “miserable place to work.” It’s a dysfunctional relationship, as so many White House relationships seem to be. Given all that, is it possible that Kelly’s just killing time, hanging out in the White House gym for parts of the day while waiting for Trump to replace him with Corey Lewandowski? (There were rumbles about that in May, remember?) Yeah, why not?
I do think Corey will be his replacement when he goes, if there’s a replacement. POTUS has now fully embraced the logic of “letting Trump be Trump,” which was Lewandowski’s mantra during the campaign. He’s got his tariffs; he’s got his photo op with Kim Jong Un; he’s got his child separation policy to deter illegals from “infesting” America. He’s got a summit with Putin coming up at some point. If he’s going full MAGA, it stands to reason that he’d want a yes man by his side. Who better than Corey? It might not be long now. Exit quotation:
As Politico reported, Kelly advised Nielsen not to do the briefing yesterday. Trump is said to have been displeased by that.
— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) June 19, 2018