How long will Kelly last?

The political establishment is swooning over the choice of Department of Homeland secretary John Kelly to be chief of staff to Donald Trump as a sign that finally, finally, there might be an adult near the top to whip things into shape. Trump, like many in the establishment media and political class, seems to be in awe of high-level military officers, a telling indicator of his own weakness and insecurity, and they think that thus Kelly will be able to stand up to Trump and bring order to the chaos in the administration.

But that is not going to happen because it is Trump who is chaotic and even paranoid and such people will lash out in frustration when things do not go exactly as they want and Kelly will bear the brunt of his anger, something that he is not used to. Heather Digby Parton thinks that the Kelly move is a good thing because his work at DHS was bad and it is better for him to be out of there and spend all his time in the futile task of trying to deal with the internal warfare in the White House than harassing ordinary people.

Trump certainly admired [Kelly’s] ruthless approach to dealing with immigration during his stint as director of Homeland Security. It is ironic that a man who is being extolled as a rigid disciplinarian made his name at DHS as a leader who allowed rank-and-file ICE officers and Border Patrol agents to run wild and do whatever they deemed necessary regardless of the law. This is not the mark of a strict and controlled leadership style.

According to Dara Lind at Vox, Kelly has also recently adopted Trump’s florid rhetorical style, ranting to an audience at George Washington University, “Make no mistake — we are a nation under attack. We are under attack from criminals who think their greed justifies raping young girls at knifepoint, dealing poison to our youth, or killing just for fun,” which apparently surprised people who have known him for a while and saw him as a more nuanced and sophisticated thinker. Trump undoubtedly appreciated such a validation of his worldview that the United States is at war with immigrants.

I wrote about Kelly’s disturbing tenure at DHS a few weeks ago, and frankly I think he’s better off working at the White House scheduling the president’s time and refereeing the dysfunctional Trump family circus than overseeing that vast police agency. In a way, Trump’s unfitness for office may serve to rein in Kelly as much as Kelly will rein in Trump.

Three things will eventually do in Kelly and will result either in him being seen as ineffective or quitting.

One is that Trump demands total loyalty to him and does not return it. The news today that Kelly had been very upset by Trump firing FBI director James Comey and had offered Comey to resign in protest will be taken by Trump as a sign of disloyalty, so already the relationship is poisoned. Will he at some point start thinking that Kelly is one of those plotting against him?

The second is that despite Kelly’s demand that, as a condition for accepting the job, everyone report to Trump through him, Trump will not carry through on that promise. Does anyone think that Ivanka and Jared Kushner are going to ask Kelly for permission to talk to her Dad and push whatever cockamamie idea they have? Or Steve Bannon? Or whoever Trump takes a fancy to for whatever reason? Recall that the Mooch came out of nowhere and for a short while seemed to be Trump’s closest confidante over his own chief of staff.

The third reason is Trump himself. No one but a self-effacing obsequious toady survives for long working for Trump. Kelly may share Trump’s viciousness in targeting immigrants but he may not be willing to sink that low. And even if he does, Matt Taibbi suggests that that may not be enough because everybody crashes and burns when they get close to Trump.

The twin killings of Scaramucci and Priebus tell the whole story. The two men represented opposite strategies for surviving Castle Trumpsylvania, and both turned out to be equally ineffective. Scaramucci committed the cardinal sin in the Trump White House, getting more press than the president. The kiss of death was probably a Breitbart article about his brief but colorful reign. “Move over President Donald Trump. You are yesterday’s news,” the piece said. “It seems like this is now The Anthony Scaramucci Show. And Trump better get used to it.”

If this was return fire from Scaramucci-accused autofellator Steve Bannon, who after all used to run Breitbart, it hit its mark.

The Scaramucci/Bannon rule seems to suggest that the best strategy for survival in the Trump White House is to lay low, keep your face off cable, and genuflect to His Highness as shamelessly and excessively as possible. No dice!

Priebus, a born bootlicker and capitulator whose spine was surgically removed years ago during his first term as RNC chairman, tried exactly this strategy, and ended up just as dead as Scaramucci.

Hiring a mulish Marine four-star general to take charge of the White House sounds like a good idea and will probably draw plaudits from the credential-obsessed corporate press (particularly if Kelly succeeds in convincing Trump to launch a war somewhere). But hiring a military taskmaster to impose message discipline is useless if the new general has no power to keep the loudest mouth of the lot – Trump’s own – shut.

Some see in all these maneuverings an effort to purge GOP loyalists like Spicer and Priebus. Others see a Nixonian lunge to hire thugs in a crisis. This to me is all overthinking things. There is no strategy. This White House is just a succession of spasmodic Trump failures, with a growing line of people taking the fall for each of them. You can fall with honor, or without, entertainingly or not. But if you join this White House, fall you will. It’s only a matter of time.

So what are the bets on how long Kelly will last?

Seth Meyers discusses the firings and other fast-moving events.


  1. Dutch Delight says

    He’ll outlast Trump and will smoothly transition to being chief of staff for the Mattis whitehouse.

    In the category “stuff you could have seen coming if you didn’t have your media collectively trumptrolled all the time”. Like over the impotent tweets on transgenders in the army, clearly crafted for their effect on the public.

  2. Matt G says

    You mean to say he’s still there? I thought he was brought in to fire Mooch, and that someone else would be brought in to fire him.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Twitter users, pls launch a rumor that John Kelly is related (and enslaved) to Megyn K.

    That’ll get John K unemployed by lunchtime.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    If we’re making predictions, I’m going to say he’ll leave the post between the 1st and 14th of September.

  5. deepak shetty says

    Man I got dealt bad cards. I have Sessions, Bannon, DeVos, Pruitt and Price. When can they get fired ,please?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *