President Donald Trump is running out of brass. He axed former national security advisers Michael Flynn and H.R. McMaster, two of his "generals." Despite Trump's energetic defense of Dr. Ronny Jackson, the Navy rear admiral has now been relieved of duty as the presidential physician. We've been hearing for months that White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is on the outs with Trump, and new reporting makes it seem likely he won't be there much longer.
This article was originally published at Salon
Ever since Kelly said that Trump was "uninformed" about policy issues and then mishandled the Rob Porter scandal by stabbing former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks in the back and letting her take the blame, the rumblings have gotten louder. Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman reported in March that the relationship with Kelly was on the skids:
With the departures of Hope Hicks and Gary Cohn, the Trump presidency is entering a new phase — one in which Trump is feeling liberated to act on his impulses. “Trump is in command. He’s been in the job more than a year now. He knows how the levers of power work. He doesn’t give a fuck,” the Republican [source] said. Trump’s decision to circumvent the policy process and impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum reflects his emboldened desire to follow his impulses and defy his advisers. “It was like a fuck-you to Kelly,” a Trump friend said. “Trump is red-hot about Kelly trying to control him.”
It was obvious at the time that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner were among those pushing this storyline. Ivanka was quoted complaining to a friend that Kelly had embarrassed Kushner with the security clearance issue. (Apparently she was unaware that her father can clear anyone he chooses to.)
After attorney John Dowd left the president's legal team, stories circulated that Trump was feeling so liberated that he was planning to eliminate the position of chief of staff altogether. That certainly didn't give the impression Kelly had much job security. Kelly seemed to know he was short for the White House at the time. At a Department of Homeland Security event in Texas, Kelly said that he had loved running that department and that his move to the White House must have meant, "I did something wrong and God punished me." One imagines Trump was not pleased to hear that one.
Recently we learned that Trump is no longer allowing Kelly to be on all his calls, including the one in which he congratulated Vladimir Putin on his recent re-election, despite the unanimous warning from his advisers not to do it. There has been a lot of talk that Fox News host Sean Hannity is a de facto chief of staff, advising the president with private talks by cell phone. One wonders why Kelly has stuck around this long. In answer to that, NBC News reported this week that the infighting and back-stabbing has risen to new heights and that members of the White House staff have now turned on Kelly, leaking that he arrogantly takes credit for saving the world from Donald Trump.
In one heated exchange between the two men before February's Winter Olympics in South Korea, Kelly strongly — and successfully — dissuaded Trump from ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, according to two officials.
For Kelly, the exchange underscored the reasoning behind one of his common refrains, which multiple officials described as some version of "I'm the one saving the country."
"The strong implication being 'if I weren't here we would've entered WWIII or the president would have been impeached,'" one former senior White House official said.
He also apparently frequently refers to Trump as an "idiot."
CNN further reported that when Trump abruptly announced in public, and without any discussion with advisers, that he would pull U.S. troops from Syria, Kelly referred to the president as "unhinged" in a meeting with national security officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Kelly is not, of course, the first of Trump's close advisers to call him an idiot. McMaster reportedly said that too, also calling the president a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartener." Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson famously called Trump a "fucking moron." Now-disgraced Senior Adviser Steve Bannon, a true believer, said that Trump was like an 11-year old. Perhaps worst of all was an email “purporting to represent the views of former economic adviser Gary Cohn” which, according to Michael Wolff's book "Fire and Fury," read in part:
It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored . . . Trump is less a person than a collection of terrible traits.
You will note that none of those people still work in the White House. It stands to reason that John Kelly must be getting close to his final exit as well.
The NBC News report went to great lengths to also point out that Kelly is widely disliked for his antediluvian sexist views, absurdly suggesting that the Trump White House has zero tolerance for such behavior within its august halls. Kelly reportedly defended accused domestic abuser Rob Portman by saying that women are more emotional than men, which is rich considering that Porter allegedly got so angry at his former wife that he dragged her out of the shower to scream abuse at her. Then there's Kelly himself, who reportedly blows off steam with "salty language" and constantly insults his boss in meetings with other White House staff. Obviously, Trump himself is no study in grace under pressure. He watches TV for hours, works himself into a frenzy and then blurts out:
A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!!!— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1523358498.0
While Kelly's sexism may sound creepy, it's a bit much for staffers to put this out there as the reason for his demise. They are working for Donald Trump, the man who bragged about groping women's private parts and getting away with it because he's a star. It's obvious they have no standards in that regard.
Clearly, Kelly is being shoved out because everyone understands Trump is an idiot, and it's only a matter of time before he finds out they are saying it out loud. He won't have that:
....Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.… https://t.co/G3374En0XQ— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1515241662.0
....to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius....and… https://t.co/X3UO2xDvEv— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1515241851.0
Beltway pundits are all bemoaning the fact that Kelly's impending departure will mean there is only one "grown-up" left, Defense Secretary Mattis. No one knows how long he will last either; he may be next in line.
Donald Trump thinks he's got this now, and he doesn't need anyone advising him to do things he doesn't want to do. Anyway, he's got John Bolton, Larry Kudlow and Sean Hannity to lean on. What could go wrong?