John Kelly may have just signed on for the toughest job in Washington.
As President Donald Trump’s new Chief of Staff, he’s tasked with bringing order to the most unconventional White House in modern history.
Kelly’s first act was to force out White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci after “The Mooch” had spent just 10 days on the job. Scaramucci’s profanity-laced tirade against his co-workers made his future inside the West Wing untenable, and this was low-hanging fruit for the new Chief of Staff.
Predictably, Kelly was quickly lauded for turning things around, and heralded in some circles as the saviour of the administration.
But the reality facing the Trump White House is far more complex, and it’s not clear one man has the power to undo problems that are now baked-in.
Before Kelly had even unpacked his new office, CNN reported he was so upset with how President Trump handled the firing of FBI Director James Comey that he called Comey to say he was thinking about resigning in solidarity. That story came from unnamed sources who seemed intent on taking an early shot at the new sheriff in town, by suggesting his discomfort with the president.
WATCH: General Kelly becomes Trump’s new chief of staff
In fact the retired Four-Star General’s attempts to impose order and discipline inside the Trump administration have quickly found their limits in the amateurish operation of the executive branch.
On Wednesday, as President Trump signed a new bill imposing sanctions on Russia for interfering in the US election, the White House sent out two conflicting versions of a statement from the president barely one minute apart.
The 11:15 AM statement was full of legalese and slammed what Trump called “clearly unconstitutional provisions” of the bill, which was passed with a veto-proof majority and was designed to limit the president’s ability to repeal the sanctions.
The 11:16 AM statement simply called the bill “seriously flawed,” while using tough language to speak of how the administration “will side with our allies and friends against Russian subversion and destabilization.”
That second statement, also included a closing line of pure Trumpain grandiose; “I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars. This is a big part of the reason I was elected,” the statement from the president read, adding “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than congress.”
Those are the kinds of slip-ups that suggest there’s still plenty of work for Kelly to do.
One report suggests the new Chief has taken the symbolic yet highly practical step of closing the door the oval office, and controlling who gets access to the president. It’s as though no one had thought of this before.
Axios reports “even [the president] appears to be trying to impress his four-star handler, picking up his game by acting sharper in meetings and even rattling off stats, meetings are shorter and stick to their scheduled topic.”
Aside from raising alarming questions about Trump’s on-the-job performance before Kelly’s arrival, the report suggests superficial changes have been made that will at least create a sense of structure and discipline.
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But that game only works for as long as the boss plays along.
On Kelly’s second day on the job, Trump blasted off a defiant tweet: “Only the Fake News Media and Trump enemies want me to stop using Social Media (110 million people). Only way for me to get the truth out!”
In reality, virtually every political staffer, lawyer and military advisor in the President’s inner circle would love it if he stayed away from Twitter, and that list almost certainly includes Kelly.
Trump’s tweets undermine his own message almost weekly, and cause more problems than they solve. (remember the tweet about the Comey tapes that ended with the Trump under investigation for obstruction of justice?)
As Chief of Staff, Kelly now faces a daunting list of what-ifs including a presidential daughter and son-in-law testing the limits of his authority, and a president who has refused to be reined in by anyone.
The task before Kelly is certainly not impossible, but to be successful the burden of organizing the White House into some semblance of a pillar of government is going to require everyone to come on board with the new Chief.
And that’s where Kelly encounters the great risk that time and patience run thin.
In under 200 days, the Trump White House has set records for employing the shortest serving National Security Advisor, Director of Communications and Chief of Staff in history.
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