Myra Adams -- Gen. John Kelly's toughest battle yet: Against Trump's personality

Re-posted from Washington Examiner August 7, 2016

Author’s note: The analysis on which this piece is based originally posted on RedState, February 29, 2016.

On Feb. 22, 2016, I met with and interviewed Roger Stone, who is President Trump’s longtime friend, former business associate, and adviser for over 40 years.

Stone candidly discussed Trump’s personality characteristics and management style in the context of the raging presidential primary campaign.

Fast-forward now 18 months to the seventh month of Trump’s presidency. Chaos rules the daily news cycle, compelling Trump to name John Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general as his new White House chief of staff. However, giving a decorated, distinguished Marine a mission to instill order and discipline throughout the White House is the easy part. The real question is whether the president will allow Kelly to impose self-discipline on him.

For answers, I reviewed what Stone had told me in February 2016 about Trump’s personality, knowing full well that a successful 71-year-old businessman is not likely to change.

Here is one thing Stone said to me in our meeting of February 2016:

“Trump is his own strategist, his own speechwriter, his own logistician, his own press secretary … “

Trump operates as a team of one who does not play well with others. (Especially obvious when Trump publicly lambasts members of Congress, White House staff and cabinet secretaries.)

Trump’s “team-of-one” approach is a persistent problem plaguing his presidency. Since taking office, President Trump’s team-of-one personality manifested itself when the president failed to inform cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, or even his own communications staff before he made major policy announcements. Predictably, the results were disastrous. (See first Muslim travel ban and military transgender ban for starters.)

Moreover, tweeting is a solitary exercise and the best example of “his own” team-of-one leadership style that causes self-inflicted wounds almost daily.

Kelly, as a retired general, knows that teamwork is central to every mission or organization achieving its goals. He is now tasked with molding Trump into an effective team leader. If Kelly is successful, he could dramatically turn around Trump’s sinking job approval ratings and potentially save his young presidency. However, “if” is used above as an operative word signifying hope (especially for Republican leaders.)

Another point Stone made to me:

“No one puts words in Donald Trump’s mouth. No one. He runs his campaign by telling you what he thinks.”

Simply delete the word “campaign” and insert “presidency,” and this remains applicable today. Therefore, Gen. Kelly must convince the president that every word from his mouth or Twitter feed has political ramifications. Thus, communicating without a filter is reckless presidential behavior.

Stone also told me in a follow-up by phone that

“Trump is totally situational. He lives in the moment, he is not programmed and has amazingly great gut instincts. He knows when to go on the attack and when to back off. Sometimes he will engage, and other times he will rise above the fray.”

The challenge for Gen. Kelly will be managing a boss who rules and acts by his gut instincts and impulses while occupying the most powerful office in the world.

“Trump,” Stone added in our phone call, “is genuine, unscripted, uncoached, and not phony. He is not reading speeches and talking points provided by some young speechwriter. He is not operating on what the polls or focus groups tell him what he should say. Voters find that refreshing, interesting and entertaining. He is like a man on a high-wire without a net.”

The statement stands up pretty well 18 months later. Since Trump’s presidency is getting a little wobbly, might Trump have hired Gen. Kelly to act as his “net”?

Either way, Stone’s characterizations of Trump ring true. Gen. Kelly may be taking on the most difficult mission of his career against the personality of the president of the United States.

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