The early months of Donald Trump’s presidency featured constant turmoil in the White House. On a near-daily basis, Americans were confronted with reports of chaos, in-fighting, distrust, and behind-the-scenes leaks intended to boost one faction over another.More than a few observers started comparing Trump’s out-of-control West Wing to “Game of Thrones.” When the president held a press conference one year ago this week and described his team as a “fine-tuned machine,” nearly everyone immediately found it hilarious because the assessment was so badly at odds with reality.
When John Kelly made the transition from four-star general to Homeland Security secretary to White House chief of staff, the mayhem was supposed to end. Instead, Trump World now appears to have come full circle. The Washington Post put it this way:
Aides described a resulting level of dysfunction not experienced behind the scenes at the White House since the early months of Trump’s presidency. Dormant rivalries have come alive, with suspicions swirling about some of the most senior officials and the roles they apparently played in protecting [former White House Staff Secretary Rob] Porter.
Two prominent White House staffers were forced to resign last week following allegations of violent domestic abuse – part of a recent trend in which the administration has begun hemorrhaging staff. Aides have started to tell reporters that Kelly’s version of events surrounding Porter’s exit wasn’t true. Communications Director Hope Hicks is under fire in ways she’s not accustomed to. Kelly has reportedly made clear that he’s willing to resign.
For his part, Trump has not only vented his frustrations about Kelly’s performance, he’s also begun “speculating about potential replacements,” and a short list of possible successors has apparently emerged.
By one account, Trump last week privately confided in, of all people, Reince Priebus – the man he ousted as chief of staff to install Kelly.
I’m sympathetic to the argument that leadership begins at the top, and the amateur president’s ineptitude is chiefly responsible for the tumult in the White House. But Kelly’s job was to bring competence to the president’s erratic operation. Kelly obviously couldn’t control Trump’s tweets or ridiculous antics, but as chief of staff, he could bring responsible maturity to the White House’s day-to-day operations.
And it now seems Kelly has failed.
The Post’s Ruth Marcus added the other day, “In the spirit of the Olympics, it has long been clear who takes the gold medal for worst performer in the White House. (Hint: His office has no corners.) Now, it’s time to award the silver medal to an unexpected choice: Chief of Staff John F. Kelly.”
* Postscript: On yesterday’s Sunday shows, several people close to the president, including Kellyanne Conway, said Kelly still enjoys Trump’s confidence. Given Conway’s track record, there’s little reason to accept such rhetoric at face value.