When John Kelly stepped in as White House chief of staff last summer, he was widely hailed as someone who could impose order on a chaotic West Wing and check President Trump’s worst impulses. Kelly — a retired four-star Marine general — became a figure of military discipline in the White House, alongside national security adviser and active-duty Gen. H.R. McMaster. He also joined McMaster as a prominent member of “the adults in the room,” a widely used phrase suggesting a contrast between the immature president and the more experienced, more composed officials tasked with averting disaster.
Trump critics took it as a sign that Kelly was on their side when he seemed to hang his head as the president defended white-nationalist protesters in August. And yet six months later, Kelly’s future in the White House is highly uncertain, his reputation is greatly diminished, and the vision of Trump constrained by military officers acting as “adults” has evaporated.
Kelly’s public descent into ugliness began with an October news conference in which he defended Trump’s insensitive call to a soldier’s widow by attacking a Democratic congresswoman who is a friend of that family. Amid the fight over immigration, he accused eligible young people who didn’t sign up for deportation protections of being “too lazy to get off their asses.” And he protected staff secretary Rob Porter’s position at the White House and spoke of Porter as “a man of true integrity and honor,” despite knowing that domestic violence accusations had cost Porter a full security clearance.