ANALYSIS: John Kelly’s impossible mission as White House chief of staff
SAUL LOEB/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — He’s got the job – but will he be able to do it well?
Within his first 24 hours on the job, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly displayed reasons for optimism, quickly moving to establish control and cleaner lines of authority. But Kelly also saw first-hand why imposing discipline on the president and his top aides may be a hopeless endeavor.
Dismissing the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, sent an important signal that Kelly is in control – with the buy-in of President Trump himself. Yet a fresh revelation on the ongoing Russia scandal that threatens to consume the Trump presidency is a reminder that there’s only so much any chief of staff in this White House can control.
The consensus among Trump’s friends and associates is that if anyone can tame the wild rivalries at play inside the Trump White House, it’s Kelly. His military background serves dual purposes – as a model for decision-making structures he hopes to impose, and as a source for respect from the president downward.
Yet he inherits substantial baggage. The Trump White House is enveloped in a semi-permanent scandal, with a stalled legislative agenda, tense relationships with the Republican Party, and an existing command structure that has proven haphazard and unwieldy.
Of course, Kelly inherits Trump himself. The White House can only be effectively managed so far as the president himself lets it, or want it, to be.
Trump continues to make clear that he will follow his own instincts when it comes to strategy and communicating a message. His most recent tweet-storms have targeted GOP senators, China, and “fake news.” As if on cue, he tweeted Tuesday – Kelly’s first full day on the job – that posting on social media is the “Only way for me to get the truth out!”
Those close to the president are divided on whether a new chief of staff should try to control the president’s impulses. Corey Lewandowski, who followed the “let Trump be Trump” mantra as the president’s first campaign manager, told Fox News Tuesday that Kelly should focus on managing the staff – not the president.
“I don’t think he is going to look to change Donald Trump, because that would be a mistake,” Lewandowski said. “The president doesn’t need to be controlled. He’s the greatest communicator we have ever had.”
It’s not the president’s effectiveness in communicating a message that’s in question, though. It’s his judgment and his credibility in doing so.
Even political allies are sounding alarms about the sense of drift in the White House agenda. Just in the snapshot of this week, the president is warring publicly with Republican senators and Jeff Sessions, his long-loyal attorney general. Scaramucci was the third top staffer to be shown the door in the space of a week and a half.
Then there’s Russia, and the news on Monday that the president decided to personally help craft a statement on behalf of his son, which is adding additional concerns for even those rooting for the president to succeed. Kelly will be pushed from all sides on the probe – by those calling for independent investigations to continue, and by a president who is on record many times calling all the Russia probe a “witch hunt.”
On Monday, after Kelly was sworn in as chief of staff, Trump lavished praise on him as a “fantastic leader” who has gotten “tremendous results.”
Then, a man used to running his own businesses and who is still adjusting to politics adjourned for a cabinet meeting: “We’ll see you in the boardroom,” Trump said.
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