Good Question

John Kelly Should Stay—After All, Who the Heck Would Take That Job?

The ex-Marine chief of staff has been at best an utter disappointment. But it’s hard to think of someone who would actually take the job who’d be better.


Chip Somodevilla/Getty

On Tuesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray provided a timeline that undercuts the White House’s contention that Chief of Staff John Kelly didn’t “become fully aware” of the spousal abuse allegations lodged at former staff secretary Rob Porter until Feb. 7.

During Capitol Hill testimony, Wray said that the White House first received a report on Porter in March of last year, that a follow-up inquiry was issued in November, and that the file was closed in January.

The obvious question is: Should Kelly stay or go?

When Kelly replaced Reince Priebus to become White House chief of staff, there was hope that he would (a) bring discipline, efficiency, competence, and logistical order to a chaotic White House operation, and (b) use his gravitas to provide some adult supervision to a president who was deficient of character and temperament.

These were both heavy lifts (a chief of staff works for the president so there’s only so much he can do), but while Kelly seemed to have made improvements in the former (to the degree that anyone could possibly bring order to this White House), he has utterly failed in the latter—if he ever even tried.

Donald Trump has many impulses that probably should be balanced against. To be sure, the president gets the final word, but having strong personalities who can recognize when he is being tone deaf is a good idea. For example, Trump obviously doesn’t give a shit about women’s allegations of abuse or harassment. He stuck by Roy Moore, for crying out loud. He started calling Bannon Bam-Bam over his domestic abuse allegations. Uh, really not funny. 

Could it be that a 67-year-old Marine isn’t the best-cast person to balance Donald Trump’s misogynistic tendencies?

For a while, I thought Kelly was pretty good at logistics, but terrible at any sort of moral leadership.

But now, I’m starting to wonder if I was wrong about Kelly’s competence, too. Consider what just happened purely from a security standpoint. As staff secretary, Porter had been privy to highly classified information, despite having only a temporary security clearance. Even if one dismisses the credible allegations of abuse, the lack of a security clearance alone should have disqualified Porter from serving in this capacity.

Of course, Porter isn’t alone here. Jared Kushner has no full clearance after more than a year. That’s a sign of a problem. And yet, he reads the President’s Daily Brief in the morning. How is this allowed to happen?

Regardless, the Porter scandal wasn’t Kelly’s first big slip up. Last year, he refused to apologize for wrongly attacking Rep. Frederica Wilson, accusing her of inappropriately grabbing credit for a project in her district even though video evidence showed she had not done so, and recently suggested that DREAMers who didn’t sign up for DACA were “lazy” or “afraid.”

What we are left with is the fact that I have just spent 500 or so words making a pretty compelling case for why Kelly should be removed from his post.

Get The Beast In Your Inbox!

Daily Digest

Start and finish your day with the top stories from The Daily Beast.

Cheat Sheet

A speedy, smart summary of all the news you need to know (and nothing you don't).

By clicking “Subscribe,” you agree to have read the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy
Thank You!
You are now subscribed to the Daily Digest and Cheat Sheet. We will not share your email with anyone for any reason.

He was, after all, hired to solve problems, and yet he is creating them. He was expected to (at least, partly) temper Trump’s worst impulses, and instead, he seems to be reinforcing them.

If we were to judge Kelly based on the criteria of having demonstrated competence and a strong character, this mounting evidence should, in a normal world, justify firing Kelly. But this isn’t a normal world. The truth is that Kelly is probably as good as it gets.

The notion that he has lost credibility with his team supposes that their standards are higher than they have demonstrated. The notion that he has lost credibility with the press suggests that he is attempting to defend the indefensible—which is another way of saying he works for Donald Trump.

The idea that anyone could reign in Trump more than Kelly has seems like wishful thinking. If a Marine general can’t do this job, good luck finding someone who can.

Donald Trump leaves a trail of professional corpses in his wake. Whether Kelly was changed or the real Kelly was simply revealed by virtue of being placed in this role, Kelly’s reputation has been irreparably diminished by virtue of attempting to serve this president.

Still, I’ll support Kelly’s ouster the second anyone can name a replacement who can do a better job of keeping Donald Trump on the straight and narrow.  

I won’t hold my breath.