After almost nine months of speculation, President Trump on Saturday confirmed the rumors: Chief of Staff John Kelly will be leaving the White House at the end of the year.
There's really only one question worth asking about this: What kept Kelly on the job for so long? The answer is the same thing that brought him to the White House: chaos and inertia.
A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far, away, which is to say, about last summer in Washington, D.C., Kelly was the chosen one who would bring balance to the White House. How did that work out? A few weeks into his tenure the sitting president of the United States went on television after a domestic terrorist killed an American citizen and talked about how, in the conflict between Nazis and anti-Nazis, there are heroes on both sides. How should Kelly have responded? Would it have been a good idea to resign immediately in the hope that Trump would appoint someone slightly more qualified than Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) to replace him? It is hard to blame a military man for wanting to help his commander-in-chief.
There were, after all, signs that Kelly was achieving what he set out to do. The day he was appointed to replace Reince Priebus, he got rid of Anthony Scaramucci, the unhinged White House communications director who had just left a threatening message on the voice mailbox of a journalist. Within less than a month Kelly had pushed out Stephen Bannon, the twisted grand vizier of the Trump sultanate. It was also reported that he blocked the infamous Sheriff David Clarke from receiving a job at the Department of Homeland Security.
But these gestures in the direction of reform were few and far between. So far from bringing sanity and order to this administration Kelly has himself become a kind of Trumpian figure. Many journalists expected him to resign months ago when it was reported that he knew of various accusations of domestic violence made against one of his underlings and chose to do nothing about them. He also managed to survive his bizarre argument with Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), for which he claimed he would "never" apologize.
How many people realize, I wonder, that it is Kelly perhaps more so than anyone else who is responsible for the Trump administration's decision to separate mothers and children at the Mexican border? This policy, which earned the disapprobation of everyone from Michelle Obama to Franklin Graham, was one of the many products of Kelly's febrile imagination while he was serving as the secretary of homeland security. Many other things will be brought forward to explain why he is finally being pushed out, but I think the fallout from what is so far the worst week of Trump's presidency convinced the man in the Oval Office long ago that Kelly did not have "spirit." If he had, it would have worked, right?
Why then did he remain in his position for so long? Simply put, because the president he was appointed to serve is by turns too distracted and too bored to bother with firing him. Addicted to cable news and the latest stock market tidbits, obsessive in his hatred of the special counsel investigation, Trump has been able to serve as president without a functional chief of staff for many months. He has thrown out all the old ceremonial trappings of the presidency in order to explore its full Caesar-like possibilities. If he does not need the help of Congress or Republican Party leadership or the conservative media establishment to make and implement policy, he certainly does not require the services of a crotchety former general in order to fire Omarosa. He used to do that for a living.
For months Kelly has been unable to proceed with his ostensible mission of reforming this administration. The reasons for this are obvious. What is less clear is why, knowing that his mission was doomed, he had been unable or unwilling to resign sooner. Did he continue out of a sense of duty? Did he need the paycheck? Did he have nothing better to do with his time?
Paralyzed and compromised, John Kelly personified American politics two years into the Trump administration.