John Kelly threw President Trump under the bus.
Kelly, Trump's outgoing chief of staff, was kind of subtle about it — he didn't call the president a "moron" or claim to be the author of the anonymous op-ed that said Trump administration officials are engaged in a clandestine defensive battle against the commander-in-chief's wishes. But Kelly did give a phone interview to the Los Angeles Times on Sunday that largely supported the impression that Trump is a dim bulb whose policies and policymaking processes are a mess.
Of course, those messes were in no way Kelly's fault.
"Frankly there was no system at all for a lot of reasons — palace intrigue and the rest of it — when I got there," he told the paper.
Whatever his motives for granting the interview, Kelly ended up short-circuiting two of Trump's favorite talking points. The first? That much of the reporting on his administration is "fake news." Kelly joined a growing list of ex-Trump officials — including former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and soon-to-be-former Defense Secretary James Mattis — who have made their immense disapproval of their boss known on the record either as they exited or shortly after. What needs to be remembered is that these accounts pretty closely match the reporting of outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times, along with books like Fire and Fury and Bob Woodward's Fear. Funny how all the people who leave the White House end up saying on the record what anonymous sources in the White House keep telling us in real-time.
The second claim Trump likes to repeat, which Kelly dispelled, is that the administration is obstructed by the machinations of the "deep state." Kelly and other former officials have made clear that the president's problems are his own creation: His style of making decisions by impulsively tweeting them leaves the relevant government agencies ill-prepared to carry out his wishes — "I had very little opportunity to look at them," Kelly said of one set of orders. And that's when Trump's own handpicked appointees aren't slow-walking his policies, the sort of thing that can happen when you choose Cabinet members based on how they look and perform on TV instead of shared policy goals. No secret cabal of entrenched government bureaucrats is needed to trip you when you're stepping on your own feet.
We end 2018, then, with fresh confirmation of what was already known: Donald Trump is bad at being president.
That's unfortunate. Even more unfortunate: We could be stuck with two more years of this mess.
Yes, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is out there waiting in the wings, and whatever the ultimate results of his investigation, it seems likely that 2019 will be the year of Trump's impeachment. The problem, as my colleague Ryan Cooper notes, is that Trump is objectively awful at the job — and that's true even if you remove high crimes and misdemeanors from the equation. But the Constitution doesn't provide America with an out simply because the president has turned out to be the Michael Scott of politics. We can't simply fire him for cause.
When events moved no faster than a horse-drawn wagon train, perhaps this was acceptable. That's no longer the case. Four-year terms for the president were supposed to provide an element of stability to the country's governance; as is so often the case, Trump has confounded the Founders' intentions. Change might be needed.
We can look abroad for a different solution: A few weeks ago, Conservatives in the United Kingdom held a no-confidence vote in the leadership of Prime Minister Theresa May for her failure to come up with a satisfactory "Brexit" deal with the European Union. She survived the vote, but promised to step down from leadership before the next election. That was a bit of accountability that Trump won't have to face, but perhaps he should.
It's unlikely the United States will adopt parliamentary governance anytime soon, but we can daydream about borrowing its best features. Conservatives in the U.K., for instance, were able to consider voting May down because they know that, in the short term at least, they'd be able to replace her from among their ranks and hold onto power. The incentives are aligned, then, for politicians in that country to take a slightly longer view of matters — and act accordingly.
Would Republicans feel more free to oppose and even oust Trump if a similar mechanism were available here? Perhaps not. After all, they're free to join an impeachment drive now that would hand the presidency to Mike Pence — still conservative and anathema to liberals, but arguably far more stolid than Trump. So far they haven't.
What we know is this: With a few exceptions — his family and nationalist true believers — the people who work most closely with Trump have been the ones to tell us about his most grievous flaws. Officials like John Kelly are getting the information out, most likely, to buff their own legacies despite having worked for such an awful leader. Americans should have the ability to do something with that information besides wait two more years and continue to watch things get worse. Trump is a bad president. What can we do about it?