We have just seen John Kelly in action for the first time as President Trump’s first real chief of staff. The retired four-star Marine Corps general turned commandant of the West Wing is looking good.
Mr. Kelly, whom Mr. Trump first appointed as Homeland Security secretary, demanded and got the power as chief of staff to require that all White House staff, including the president’s daughter and son-in-law, go though him to reach the president. We know that because White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee said so, explicitly and severely, in Monday’s live on-camera press conference (another sign the chaotic silliness may finally be over at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave).
The competing big news Monday was Anthony Scaramucci’s getting kicked out of the West Wing so fast he couldn’t possibly have seen the scenery on the way out.
Time marched on this way: on Thursday, Mr. Scaramucci called Reince Priebus a paranoiaic (there is no such thing, but English apparently wasn’t Mr. Scaramucci’s major or minor interest at Tufts University). Mr. Scaramucci simultaneously accused White House resident conservative thinker-in-chief Stephen Bannon of having oral sex with himself (Mr. Scaramucci used a more concise locution). In the Trump era, better to mess with Texas than with Mr. Bannon. On Friday Mr. Trump cleared his throat hard and — puft! — Mr. Priebus was extinguished as chief of staff.
Just as suddenly, there, burning bright as his replacement, was John Kelly. Some thought from the get-go the West Wing was a very temporary resting place for Mr. Priebus, who as Republican National Committee chairman was not gung-ho Trump.
Though still beloved by most of the RNC’s 168 elected members, to critics his departure as chief of staff was only a question of when.
Mr. Scaramucci’s national-stage occupancy was different, in intensity and duration more like that of a Roman candle. Mr. Trump let it be known that Mr. Scaramucci’s expletive-laden swagger was uncool, even for the Trump school of direct expression.
That image is available thanks to the president and/or General Kelly’s having kicked Mr. Scaramucci back out the same West Wing door through which Mr. Scaramucci had swaggered only moments before. Though actually 11 days, to a world newly stunned by a White House that specializes in stunning the world, it seemed as if he had claimed the communications director’s office for only moments at most.
Mr. Kelly, in establishing himself as the one-and-only gatekeeper to the president and his simultaneously cashiering Mr. Scaramucci, has signaled that he is the first honest-to-God chief of staff in a White House that needed a chief of staff more than any other White House in recent history.
Discipline has not been its most important product (which is not to say that we of the swamp-draining persuasion didn’t occasionally delight in the establishment-wrecking, nose-thumbing, political-correctness crushing antics of Trump World).
Mr. Priebus, never of that world, held the chief-of-staff title for six months but ultimately wasn’t up to it in Mr. Trump’s mind. Mr. Trump ruled his roost utterly unencumbered by a traditional chief of staff. Mr. Priebus, though he had given Mr. Trump a winning general-election ground game, was relegated to a White House role more monitor than gatekeeper.
Mr. Priebus, a Wisconsinite buddy of House Speaker Paul Ryan (never gung-ho Trump) traveled with the president more than chiefs of staff normally do, suggesting to old Washington hands that Mr. Trump repeated often to himself the dictum about keeping friends close and people you’re less sure of even closer.
Whether the old Marine can persuade the boss that twittering is self-destructive if it steps on the president’s message and yields the agitation-propaganda field to the enemy — Democrats, the press and many swamp-happy Republicans — is something that, as Mr. Trump himself said regarding the fate of Trump loyalist Attorney Gen. Jeff Sessions, “only time will tell.”
• Ralph Z. Hallow, chief political writer at The Washington Times, has covered Washington since 1982.
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