When John Kelly replaced Reince Priebus as White House chief of staff, there was plenty of speculation about whether, and to what extent, he could improve Donald Trump’s flailing presidency. Five weeks later, it’s probably fair to say the White House is at least … different.
By all accounts, Kelly, a retired four-star general and the former Secretary of Homeland Security, has brought an improved structure to the West Wing. The chief of staff has changed the flow of information into the Oval Office; he’s ended the practice of various people just stopping by the president’s desk to chat; and phone calls to Trump are now more tightly controlled.
In other words, Kelly has tried to bring a traditional White House discipline – comparable to what every modern president has had – to Team Trump.
And by some accounts, Kelly’s boss hates it. Politico published a piece on Wednesday, quoting a source close to the president saying his mindset in recent weeks is “the worst it’s ever been.” The Washington Post takes this further today, reporting that Trump “appears to pine for the days when the Oval Office was a bustling hub of visitors and gossip, over which he presided as impresario.”
Yes, just five weeks into Kelly’s tenure, Trump is reportedly bristling at his chief of staff’s management and structure.
Trump chafes at some of the retired Marine Corps general’s moves to restrict access to him since he took the job almost a month ago, said several people close to the president. They run counter to Trump’s love of spontaneity and brashness, prompting some Trump loyalists to derisively dub Kelly “the church lady” because they consider him strict and morally superior.
“He’s having a very hard time,” one friend who spoke with Trump this week said of the president. “He doesn’t like the way the media’s handling him. He doesn’t like how Kelly’s handling him.”
The same article added that Trump was heard “raising his voice with his chief of staff” at the recent rally in Phoenix, with the president faulting Kelly “for trying to restrict outside friends from having direct access to him.”
There was also this gem:
…Trump sometimes defies – and even resents – the new structure. He has been especially sensitive to the way Kelly’s rigid structure is portrayed in the media and strives to disabuse people of the notion that he is being managed. The president continues to call business friends and outside advisers, including former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, from his personal phone when Kelly is not around, said people with knowledge of the calls.
So, Kelly has been on the job for five weeks, during which time he’s brought a degree of professionalism to the West Wing. Trump, meanwhile, reportedly prefers chaos and drama, and calls up Steve Bannon when Kelly isn’t looking.
If you thought Kelly’s tenure would be the start of an important Trump “pivot,” I have some bad news for you.