John Kelly, the four-star general brought in to be father to a bumptious son who happened to be president of the United State, was not supposed to turn out like his charge.
But with Kelly’s remark that a lot of Dreamers were “too lazy to get off their asses” and his knee-jerk defense of White House staff secretary and alleged wife-beater Rob Porter, Kelly has come to resemble the man he was supposed to uplift instead of the other way around.
The latest and most serious lapse came when Kelly ignored charges that Porter had beaten his first two wives, as related to the FBI in background interviews for his permanent security clearance which reportedly he never got and worked a heartbeat away from the president without. On Tuesday, the Daily Mail reported that Porter’s second wife said that Porter yanked her naked out of the shower and called her unspeakable names on their honeymoon.
Without taking a breath, and although CNN reported Kelly knew the charges that made it necessary to grant Porter a temporary waiver, Kelly leapt to his friend’s defense when the news about them came out, calling him a man of “integrity and honor,” a “friend” and “confidante” about whom he couldn’t say “enough good things.”
Kelly was among those urging Porter to “stay and fight”—the Trump way when accused of abusive behavior, along with never believing the woman. It took a graphic photo of Porter’s first wife’s black eye published Wednesday to get the White House to act. After that came out, Porter was allowed to resign.
Even in Trump’s White House — in a hot bed of “locker-room talk” where explaining a $130,000 payment to a porn film star is all in a day’s work —this is heavy stuff. Kelly might lift some of the shame from his blinkered response by donning his Dad hat and insisting that communications director Hope Hicks stop dating Porter immediately.
Unlikely given that Hicks helped draft Kelly’s first statement dismissing the wives and gushing over Porter. In Kelly’s statement after the resignation, he mouthed boilerplate about how abhorrent domestic violence is but otherwise worried over Porter’s future. Astonishingly, the White House said that Porter would not be leaving immediately in order to insure a “smooth transition.” It gives new meaning to standing by your man.
Like so many others, Kelly quickly learned to give the domineering, easy-to-anger Trump a wide berth. One Trump confidante attributes Kelly's drift downward to the bunker he finds himself in. He had no idea how heavy the incoming fire would be. Like Trump, he believes that it’s unfair and deserves to be returned in kind.
Then there’s fear. Another recently departed White House aide says: “The only person not terrified of the president is Jim Mattis. Kelly is just hoping not to go down in flames but he knows he will never be ‘one of them,’ and that’s who Trump wants around him.”
That’s why rather than bring the dignity that Trump lacks to the office of the presidency, Kelly’s taken on the coloration of a casino boss willing to do the owner's bidding. Kelly’s low point was coming to Trump’s defense in his war against the Gold Star family of Sgt. La David Johnson, whom he didn’t call for two weeks after claiming that unlike other presidents, he always called, and telling his widow that her dead husband, whose name he didn’t say, knew what he was getting into.
As righteous outrage mounted, Kelly—the father of a fallen soldier, about whom he almost never talks—tried to come to the president’s rescue. The general took all his credibility, and sorrow, to the podium to attack Johnson’s mother and family friend, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, both of whom heard Trump’s call to the widow on speakerphone in a car to the airport to meet Johnson’s remains. To further undermine Wilson, Kelly falsely claimed that Wilson had boasted inappropriately about her contributions to a local project in Florida. A videotape of the event quickly proved she’d not done so at all.
Last summer when Kelly came on, he downsized his mission: He announced he would not be addressing Trump’s tweeting, throwing in the towel on 50% of what needed to be done. But he did build a beautiful Wall around the Oval Office, keeping out the free-range aides roaming in to give an opinion on everything from peace in the Middle East to NFL players taking a knee. He set some leak-traps and pushed out several Olympic-level gushers by planting false stories only with them. He cut short the tenure of Anthony Scaramucci. He even got rid of Trump-favorite Omarosa Manigault, the Celebrity Apprentice contestant who parlayed a losing appearance into a plum White House job.
Kelly raised hopes he might do something about Trump’s wrongheaded sentiments when he winced as Trump defended neo-Nazis demonstrating in Charlottesville as good people and when he called the leader of North Korea Rocket Man at the United Nations. He did not. He urged more use of a teleprompter, which has been intermittently successful. Yes for the State of the Union but no a day later when he’s off to Ohio “joking” about treasonous Democrats.
Prevailing, no matter how small the skirmish, is all that matters to Trump, and increasingly to Kelly. It’s hard to figure where Kelly and Trump stand on those brought here by their parents at so young an age they know nothing but America. Kelly has always been something of—excuse my French—a hard-ass on immigration, part of the reason he was Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security. But like Trump who often talked about how much he “loves those kids,” Kelly exempted the Dreamers from his general case against amnesty. But the fault line moved last week when part of “winning” the shutdown was showing Democrats were keener on protecting illegal aliens than on keeping national parks open. For the sweet taste of victory again, Trump said Tuesday he would “love” a shutdown.
Kelly just told Fox’s Bret Baier he’s not leaving because “if the president of the United States is uninformed one time and makes the wrong decision, that’s on me… So I’m in for the long haul.”
But Trump may not be. Ever thin-skinned, after Kelly suggested that the president might go for a smart wall because he’d “evolved” since the campaign, Trump corrected him in a tweet that he’d done no such thing. Well, no kidding on the failure to evolve but some kidding on the long haul. Kelly can’t be unaware that Trump shops his job around every so often, and that there’s now a drumbeat of another White House shakeup to bring “one of them” inside to comfort the president.
Kelly should know there is no way keep this president both informed and happy. There’s a long list of former White House aides who can tell him it’s mission impossible. When the call goes out for a new John Kelly, adults need not apply.