It’s a very familiar pattern with Donald Trump, indeed.
He wants a tight ship. He wants rumors and leaks controlled. He wants to have a professional, smooth-running operation, but the moment someone steps in and starts instituting the tough measures to bring order, he bristled and tries to upend everything.
No doubt, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly has been a stabilizing force in the White House.
He has stemmed the leaks that plagued the earliest months of the Trump administration’s first year, cut down on the flow of aggravating influences, coupled with a revolving door on the Oval Office, and he’s booted the more egregious perpetrators of West Wing foulness.
Everything was fine, for a while, but just as has been reported with others who have tried to control the temperature within Trump’s White House, reports of a petulant president, bristling under Kelly’s tight control, have begun to emerge.
A recent New York Times report suggested Trump expressed to others around him that Kelly was trying to control him or thought he was running things, after becoming angry at Kelly for saying candidate Trump didn’t really understand the border issues.
I mean, he wasn’t wrong. Trump quite obviously understood next to nothing on the campaign trail. His primary debate performances were cringeworthy.
Trump quickly tried to tamp down the talk by calling the reports “fake news” and expressing his confidence in the job Kelly was doing.
Still, those stories are persisting.
Just hours away from departing Washington for the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Trump — already dressed in his overcoat — stood up from the Resolute Desk, strode out of the Oval Office and made his way to Kelly’s office, where he upended an immigration briefing with a room full of reporters for the next 10 minutes.
It was, as one source would later describe, “a warning shot” from a freewheeling President who has felt more and more undermined by his structured chief of staff.
Remember that image of Trump overseas at a gathering of world leaders (G20), as he elbowed and barged his way to the front of the crowd, so that he’d be the center of the photo?
This is Trump insisting that he get top billing, and this interruption sounds exactly the same.
“Hello everybody, how’s he doing, OK?” Trump asked Wednesday night, speaking of Kelly. “I think by the way he’s doing great. He’s doing great. Fake news yesterday, or two days ago. I rarely put out a tweet, praising somebody, but only when they get a false story.”
The impromptu press conference set off a scramble inside the White House press shop, with staffers were left wondering: “What just happened? What do we do? What did he say? And was it on the record?”
Insiders are saying the president feels like Kelly sees it as his duty to protect the nation from Trump (God bless him), but that he is very conscious of the image he gives off and he’s trying not to make Trump feel as if he’s being controlled or undermined.
Sources who are close to the President say he feels Kelly doesn’t respect him, and only pays him lip service. Aides have privately wondered about how dismissive of Trump Kelly is when he is out of earshot, noting that Kelly has told colleagues he is incredibly media savvy and has bragged about the positive coverage he received when he worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Here’s a twist: Some of those same insiders are saying the stories of conflict between Trump and Kelly could be planted by Trump loyalists, rankled by having their free, casual access to the president cut off.
Two of his harshest measures — screening all of the President’s incoming calls on the White House switchboard and denying those outside the administration access to the White House grounds — have irked associates who work in the private sector and rely on their ability to boast about access to the President.
And now Kelly has been left behind while Trump went off to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.
When former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was on the job, he accompanied Trump on trips, up until Trump grew tired of his plaything. When Trump was off to the G20 Summit, Priebus stayed behind, and was gone within the month.
The rumors are that Kelly has stayed behind because staffers feel they get more work done without Trump around.
These rumors do sound suspiciously like those that surrounded H.R. McMaster for several months in 2017.
Those close to Trump believe the stunt he pulled at the briefing with reporters Wednesday night was “a warning shot” to Kelly, meant to serve as a reminder of who is boss.
And for some, it signals a sign of things to come.
“This is casebook,” one source told CNN. “The man has to eat his own.”
Now it’s down to how long John Kelly will put up with it. I just don’t get the impression that he’s a man that will take a lot of abuse or humiliation before he cracks.
But when he does…