The worst White House chiefs of staff are those who enable the worst instincts of the presidents they are supposed to serve with wise counsel and appropriate caution. And John Kelly is the worst of the worst.
Fabulists imagined that when the retired general took over management of the Trump White House, he would stabilize things. But that was never going to be the case—as the politicians and pundits who once made excuses for Kelly have begun to recognize, thanks to a brief-but-costly government-shutdown crisis.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Kelly “helped scuttle a bipartisan Senate deal and made the phone call that ended immigration negotiations on Friday. That paved the way for the partial government shutdown.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who tried to cobble together the immigration deal that could have averted the shutdown that began at midnight Saturday and headed toward a conclusion on Monday, says of the president: “I don’t think he was well-served by his staff.”
A reporter asked Graham if he was talking about the chief of staff. “John Kelly is a fine man,” the senator replied. “But he’s also part of the staff.”
In fairness, Kelly is not the most unsettling staffer in the Trump White House. That honor belongs to Stephen Miller—the anti-immigrant extremist, Jeff Session aide, Stephen Bannon acolyte, and wild-eyed talk-show guest who is always trying to steer the country toward xenophobia. As Graham says, “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we are going nowhere. He’s been an outlier for years.”
But Kelly empowers Miller by putting him in the room with Trump, and he does so because the general invariably enables the president’s cruelest sentiments and ugliest tendencies when it comes to immigration—and a host of other issues.
Kelly has from the start identified himself as a yes-man, an outspoken and over-the-top Trump loyalist. He announced during a February House Homeland Security Committee oversight session that “I work for one man. His name is Donald Trump.” Translation: Even if Kelly disagrees with a policy, even if he has doubts about whether Trump is doing the right thing, he is not going to share those anxieties with the members of Congress who are charged with overseeing the executive branch. Nor, it appears, is Kelly inclined to share those anxieties with the president.