Late Friday afternoon — the Trump administration's favorite witching hour to dump big news on a weary America — the president tweeted that he had appointed John Kelly, previously his secretary of Homeland Security, as his chief of staff, a job for which Kelly has no qualifications other than a sturdy character and the apparent willingness to one day be publicly betrayed. Reince Priebus, the former head of the Republican National Committee and one of the last vestiges of the pre-Trump GOP in the administration, is out. Amazingly, Trump sat on Air Force One and fired Priebus via tweet while the chief of staff was cooling his heels in an SUV on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base. The president, as he did with former FBI Director James Comey, allowed the media to do the job of firing Priebus for him.
Let no one ever say that this president does not enjoy pressing buttons.
Priebus is hardly the first person in his position to get cashiered. Chiefs of staff are not known for their longevity — Barack Obama had five in eight years — but the aggregate level of turmoil inside this presidency is unprecedented. Since taking office, President Trump or his underlings have dispensed with his national security adviser, his deputy national security adviser, his deputy chief of staff, the acting attorney general, the director of the FBI, his communications director, his press secretary, and now the chief of staff. Like a manager pulling a 9th-inning double switch, he has also relieved his sitting secretary of Homeland Security at a time when the president insists there is a national security crisis so grave that we must ban people from a half dozen majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.
This is the kind of staff turnover you would expect for the lunch shift at an Applebee's or the call floor of a telemarketing firm. The question is not whether any of Trump's advisers will survive his first term — it's whether any of them will survive even a single year.
Priebus had the Sisyphean task of managing the endless chaos created by a boss devoid of impulse control, common sense, policy knowledge, leadership skills, and basic human decency. He was a lone fireman sent to put out a raging forest fire, a solitary infantryman tasked with charging up a fortified hill occupied by five divisions. And he didn't seem that bright to begin with. To the president, Priebus was unable to prevent the incessant leaking and backstabbing inside the White House, and indeed was probably responsible for much of it. Priebus appears to have regarded the leaks as the only way to prevent the most dangerous, fringe characters in Trump's orbit from wielding real power. Trump also clearly prefers know-nothing loudmouths to people who know how to quietly and competently do their jobs. His management style is to assemble a Team of Liabilities and Lunatics and force them to bump one another off one by one.
When new communications director Anthony Scaramucci called The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza on Wednesday night and called Priebus a "f--king paranoid schizophrenic" and claimed that he wanted to "kill all the leakers," the writing was fairly obviously on the wall. And of course, in a contest between a sane (if morally compromised) man with long experience on the Hill, and a sycophantic Wall Street ogre, Trump chose the ogre. The breaking point appears to have been the spectacular and dramatic collapse of TrumpCare in the Senate early Friday morning, something that, of course, Priebus had nothing to do with. It was President Trump's refusal to communicate the parameters of legislation he wanted to see passed, thus leaving it to the deeply divided Republicans in Congress. It was the president's preference for taking long, languorous golfing weekends over doing the hard work of going public with his vision of why TrumpCare is an improvement over the status quo. And it was the fact that no one — not the president, not Paul Ryan, and not Mitch McConnell — really believed a word of what they were saying. They faithfully followed a recipe for fiasco and the dish came out perfectly.
Someone had to take the fall for this rudderless president's colossal failures. And Priebus won't be the last. Two more senior figures appear not long for their jobs. The president has been tweeting (of course) furiously at Attorney General Jeff Sessions — calling him "weak" for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, and demanding that he conduct some kind of retributive campaign against Hillary Clinton. Sessions is apparently hurt but refuses to resign. The hapless Sessions will surely be fired just as he's putting the final touches on his legal magnum opus recommending the tripling of America's prison population.
Not to be outdone, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson — a man in charge of a department that is woefully and intentionally understaffed and underutilized — went on a strange not-holiday during which his aides insisted that he was "taking some time off." Secretary Tillerson: You are the chief diplomatic officer of this country. You are either on duty or you aren't. Sources close to Tillerson suggest that he is toughing it out through the New Year so he can put in a full journey around the sun, but he is obviously miserable, overwhelmed by the challenge of constant traveling and damage-controlling, and has nothing much to do anyway. The president makes foreign policy through Twitter. He consults no one about his decisions, let alone the administrators who have to implement his bizarre fiats. Imagine you are a hotshot lawyer defending a high-profile celebrity, and one of the nameplate heads of your firm tweets, during closing arguments, that your client is going to go ahead and plead guilty after all. This is what it is like to work for President Trump.
So this is where we are. The administration's few competent career public servants are desperately looking for the nearest exit, and they are sure to be replaced by a murder of Scaramuccis, the kind of nasty, fame-hungry, upward-failures who are the only square pegs in Trumpworld's square holes. Instead of allowing themselves to be picked off one-by-one, or paddling away in the lifeboat quickly enough to avoid the Trumptanic's wake, these advisers should do something they will actually be remembered and applauded for — removing this obviously unfit president from office via the 25th Amendment. Because once the final Mattis is gone, there will only be a skeleton crew of hacks and sociopaths left to manage the first crisis that isn't deliberately self-inflicted, for a late-stage King George president whose only move is to attack and threaten both his closest allies and his enemies when he feels trapped. God help him and all of us if anyone more dangerous than Reince Priebus ever corners him.