The storyline attached to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is that they are the “adults” in the White House. They really don’t believe all this crazy stuff that Trump says (emphasis here on says) he believes. They are the people who have formed an alleged “suicide pact” to keep Trump in line, where if one of them walks they all walk.
If you’ve served in the military, particularly as a commissioned officer, this has never quite rung true. You are taught that loyalty, like integrity, is non-negotiable. You have to be free to disagree with your boss but the day you can’t be loyal to him and what he’s trying to do is the day you have to quit.
The New York Times has an interesting profile on White House Chief of Staff John Kelly titled Pitched as Calming Force, John Kelly Instead Mirrors Boss’s Priorities. To tell you the truth I’ve sort of been expecting this for a couple of weeks, ever since Kelly pooh-poohed the “f***ing moron” story and ridiculed the “tenfold increase in nukes” story.
I think that his defense of Trump over what did or didn’t happen on the phone call to the widow of Sergeant La David Johnson probably and his opinion about how women should be treated probably made writing Kelly off as some kind of a neanderthal incapable of higher order reasoning inevitable.
This past summer, the Trump administration debated lowering the annual cap on refugees admitted to the United States. Should it stay at 110,000, be cut to 50,000 or fall somewhere in between? John F. Kelly offered his opinion. If it were up to him, he said, the number would be between zero and one.
Mr. Kelly’s comment made its way around the White House, according to an administration official, and reinforced what is only now becoming clear to many on the outside. While some officials had predicted Mr. Kelly would be a calming chief of staff for an impulsive president, recent days have made clear that he is more aligned with President Trump than anticipated.
For all of the talk of Mr. Kelly as a moderating force and the so-called grown-up in the room, it turns out that he harbors strong feelings on patriotism, national security and immigration that mirror the hard-line views of his outspoken boss. With his attack on a congresswoman who had criticized Mr. Trump’s condolence call to a slain soldier’s widow last week, Mr. Kelly showed that he was willing to escalate a politically distracting, racially charged public fight even with false assertions.
And in lamenting that the country no longer holds women, religion, military families or the dignity of life “sacred” the way it once did, Mr. Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general whose son was killed in Afghanistan, waded deep into the culture wars in a way few chiefs of staff typically do. Conservatives cheered his defense of what they consider traditional American values, while liberals condemned what they deemed an outdated view of a modern, pluralistic society.
There you have the bill of indictment. He would like to stop immigration (this means he wasn’t cracking down in Homeland Security at the behest of Trump but because he believed in the mission); he refused to accept abuse from a Florida Congressman who is not particularly bright; he thinks women deserve a special respect.
“Mr. Kelly’s focus on improving information flow and decision making in the West Wing gave the impression of a good soldier mainly concerned with process. But that obscured a player who expresses his own sharp views in selected areas, most notably immigration, where he shares Mr. Trump’s commitment to toughening the border and deporting many in the country illegally. His views were forged in part by his time heading the United States Southern Command, which oversees American military operations and security in Central and South America and in the Caribbean.
Under Mr. Kelly’s leadership, the Department of Homeland Security also went after undocumented parents who bring their children into the country. He directed immigration officials to lodge smuggling charges against the parents, saying they were putting children in danger.
“Kelly has been an enabler of Trump’s mission,” said Juliette Kayyem, a former assistant homeland security secretary under Mr. Obama. “Judge him that way.”
His image as a steady, nonideological figure trying to restore order in the White House in the face of a radical president, she added, was not true. Mr. Kelly, she said, was not “the savior or the hostage.”
As a cabinet officer, Mr. Kelly frequently lashed out at critics. In March, during a meeting with members of Arab and Muslim communities in Dearborn, Mich., Mr. Kelly threatened to walk out after being posed hard questions about the travel ban and what participants saw as the targeting of Muslim Americans at ports of entry, according to people in attendance.
During a speech in April, Mr. Kelly rebuked members of Congress who complained about what they called overly aggressive immigration enforcement.
“If lawmakers do not like the laws they’ve passed and we are charged to enforce, then they should have the courage and skill to change the laws,” Mr. Kelly said defiantly. “Otherwise, they should shut up and support the men and women on the front lines.”
All of that foreshadowed his attack last week on Representative Frederica S. Wilson, Democrat of Florida, who publicly accused Mr. Trump of insensitivity when he called the widow of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed this month in Niger. Mr. Kelly called her an “empty barrel” and told an unflattering story about her that was proved untrue by videotape of the event he mentioned.
Mr. Kelly decided himself to head out to the White House briefing room to defend the president, colleagues said, and most of his remarks reflected on his own experience as the father of a slain Marine and the nature of military service. He brought tears to the eyes of other White House aides, who afterward traded emails expressing admiration for Mr. Kelly’s passionate defense of Mr. Trump. It was only afterward that they began to see how the attack on Ms. Wilson came to overshadow the emotion of the first part of his speech.
The one other notable thing about the story is that no one slagged Kelly anonymously. This may be a first for any Trump White House staff profile.
I can hardly wait for the coming deconstruction of SecDef Mattis.