In his wholly inappropriate speech to the Boy Scouts, Donald Trump said if the Senate failed to pass a health care bill, he’d fire HHS Secretary Tom Price. As it turns out, Price is still at his post, but the president has instead fired his White House chief of staff.
“I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration. I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!”
The news doesn’t come as too big of a surprise. Priebus had clearly fallen out of favor and rumors have been circulating about moving Kelly from DHS to the West Wing. Priebus had shown unflinching loyalty to the president – we won’t soon forget the creepy adulation he showed Trump at the first full cabinet meeting in June – but as has become clear in recent months, Trump’s true loyalty is always to himself.
There will no doubt be plenty of analysis of Priebus’ interpersonal conflicts in the evolving White House soap opera, and for good reason, since the drama no doubt contributed to his departure. But the fact is, Priebus was never a good choice for chief of staff in the first place.
Running the White House is an incredibly challenging task under the best of circumstances – which is to say, when there’s an adult in the Oval Office – but in this case, America’s first amateur president chose a chief of staff with literally no governing experience at any level. Priebus ran the Republican National Committee and was a successful fundraiser, but this isn’t a job for a partisan operative.
In other words, it’s not surprising he failed.
It stands to reason that a chaotic White House, in the midst of a meltdown among its senior staff, would benefit from a major shake-up. Bill Clinton’s presidency, for example, got off to a very difficult start, but it started to improve after he changed his chief of staff.
But I think it’d be a mistake to assume replacing Priebus with Kelly will suddenly lead to a competent and functioning West Wing. The core problem in this White House is with the hapless president, not those who try to carry out his bizarre instructions.