Reince Priebus was a miserable White House chief of staff. A political hack who was lousy on television, ineffectual on Capitol Hill, and disrespected by the president who hired him, Priebus devolved into such a sad case that the highlight of his six-month tenure came when he was allowed to share the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference with someone who actually enjoyed the respect of Donald Trump: Steve Bannon.
But at least Priebus had a measure of self respect. There was evidence to suggest there were some things he would not do and some people (starting with Anthony Scaramucci) to whom he would not bend. That was part of what prevented Trump—who, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions has learned, demands absolute loyalty—from bonding with the man who on most White House organization charts should have been the president’s right-hand man.
There will be no such “problem” with the man who on Monday will replace Priebus. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, the retired United States Marine Corps general who will become the second White House chief of staff in the first year of Trump’s presidency, is an absolute apologist for this president.
Kelly is an outspoken and over-the-top Trump loyalist who announced to 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 was not going to share those anxieties with the members of Congress who are charged with overseeing the executive branch. The question is whether he will share those anxieties with Trump himself; and Kelly’s record does not inspire confidence.
Kelly likes to present himself as a bold truth teller. He got good marks when he told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, “I have never had a problem speaking truth to power, and I firmly believe that those in power deserve full candor and my honest assessment and recommendations.” But once he joined the cabinet, however, Kelly made himself over as a cheerleader for Trump and Trumpism.
What attracted Trump to Kelly was not the retired general’s candor. It was, as usual with Trump, an area of agreement. Kelly’s linking of border-security issues with the “War of Terror” reportedly got Trump and his transition team excited about hiring the general. While serving as head of the US Southern Command, the general told a 2015 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that “Terrorist organizations could seek to leverage those same smuggling routes (in Central American and Mexico) to move operatives with intent to cause grave harm to our citizens or even bring weapons of mass destruction into the United States.”