Donald Trump is soft. John Kelly is hard: a lifelong Marine who rose to the rank of general and led the U.S. Southern Command and the Multi-National Force West in Iraq. His bio lists 21 military decorations and awards. Trump, ever insecure, once said that his experience as a child cadet in a military boarding school gave him more training and experience than people who actually served in the armed forces but developed medical history’s only self-healing case of bone spurs when it came time to serve in Vietnam. Trump is a familiar sort of man who mistakes being hard for being a sadist, and thinks that his own well-documented appetite for inflicting suffering and humiliation on others makes him tough.
Trump likes to think of himself as an “alpha male,” as a natural-born leader, but he has instinctively adapted himself to the role of second banana in his relationship with Kelly. In all his passive-aggressive subtweeting at his chief of staff — a man who serves solely at his pleasure — Trump never even had the courage to name him.
Many conservatives have been pleasantly surprised with the first year of the Trump administration. But even those who have most enthusiastically accommodated their immortal souls to Trump and Trumpism detect in the presidency a peculiar bifurcation: It is difficult to believe that the man behind the Twitter account is the same man who helped to deliver Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and a territorial corporate-tax system to the United States. There is a relatively simple possible explanation for that: He isn’t.