The accession of Homeland Security General John Kelly to White House Chief of Staff began auspiciously, with Kelly unceremoniously taking new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on a drive in the country that ended with him leaving the gun but taking the cannoli. According to April Ryan of American Urban Radio Networks, a source told her that Scaramucci told Kelly that he didn’t answer to Kelly, and then Kelly – cold as ice! – told him he was fired.
This has led to a fresh round of speculation that Trump’s administration may finally be coming together under Kelly’s benevolent yet firm hand.
There are several reasons for skepticism. First, there’s the problem that Trump doesn’t like being controlled. Any attempt by Kelly to control access to Trump will chafe Trump — Trump can’t even be convinced to stop tweeting inane insults at his own attorney general. What happens the first time Jared and Ivanka clash with Kelly, or the first time Trump wants to meet with someone who disagrees with Kelly’s agenda?
Second, there’s the problem of Kelly’s independence. CNN reports today that Kelly was “so upset with how President Donald Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that Kelly called Comey afterward and said he was considering resigning, according to two sources familiar with a conversation between Kelly and Comey.” That sort of “non-loyalty” doesn’t go over well for long in Trumpworld — Trump sees any sort of deviation from his judgment as an attack. What happens if Trump wants to fire Sessions and Kelly urges him not to do so?
Finally, there’s the problem of marginalization. We’ve been told that Trump’s rough edges would be smoothed by: Paul Manafort (fired), Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway and Mike Pence. Nope. The best possible outcome for Trump’s picks is that he staffs them far away from himself and lets them do their job (see Mattis, General James). But those close to Trump must revolve around him, and that’s going to be a rough job for a man who is used to giving orders and abiding by chain of command.
Trump is still Trump. And Kelly isn’t going to be the fix for a president who has never been hemmed in by any strictures at any time in his adult life.