White House hunts for new chief of staff
President Trump’s long-planned White House staff shake-up was thrown into disarray this week after his favorite to replace exiting Chief of Staff John Kelly unexpectedly took himself out of the running. The departure of Kelly, a retired Marine general who was hired last year to bring order to the West Wing but struggled to manage the freewheeling Trump, had been expected for months. The president and his chief of staff had stopped talking, but reportedly agreed last week that Kelly, 68, would announce his own exit. A day later, Trump broke the news himself, telling the press, “John Kelly will be leaving. I don’t know if I can say ‘retiring,’ but he’s a great guy.” Kelly will remain in the post until at least Jan. 2.
Trump said he would quickly name a replacement, and Nick Ayers—Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff—appeared a lock for the job. He was backed by two of the president’s top advisers, son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Ivanka Trump, who had repeatedly clashed with Kelly. But Ayers withdrew his name this week and announced he was leaving government at the end of the year. Trump pushed back on reports that he was struggling to find anyone willing to join his administration, tweeting that more than 10 people “are vying for and wanting” the chief-of-staff post. The top candidates are thought to include Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and budget director Mick Mulvaney.
What the editorials said
“Kelly deserves the nation’s gratitude,” said The Wall Street Journal. Managing Trump—who “hates discipline”—is an impossible task. Yet Kelly “did that well enough, and long enough, that the White House could negotiate tax reform.” Now Trump is without a helmsman going into “the most perilous months of his presidency.” Special counsel Robert Mueller is circling, a Democratic-majority House will soon launch an investigative onslaught, and a trade war with China must be resolved. “Any volunteers?”
Trump’s “habit of appointing unvetted buffoons to key posts” suggests the latest shake-up will only result in more incompetence and chaos, said the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Consider his replacement for Nikki Haley as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The U.N. is “no place for lightweights.” Yet his nominee, current State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert, had no foreign policy experience before 2017. Her only qualification? She served “as a personality on one of Trump’s favorite TV shows, Fox & Friends.”
What the columnists said
Like many before him, Kelly departs Trump World “with his reputation in tatters,” said Michael A. Cohen in The Boston Globe. After becoming Secretary of Homeland Security in 2017, he served as “point man for Trump’s most egregiously racist” policies—the so-called Muslim ban and the crackdown on undocumented immigrants. At the White House, Kelly helped sink a deal to protect young DACA recipients, and publicly defended White House staff secretary Rob Porter, who’d been credibly accused of spousal abuse, as “a man of true integrity.” Trump and Kelly deserved each other.
No “sane person” would take the chief-of-staff gig, said Chris Stirewalt in FoxNews.com. For the position to work, the president must treat its occupant with “an empowering respect and deference.” But Trump trusts “no one outside his own family” and allows no one to act without his imprimatur. Ayers’ refusal says much about where “Republican insiders believe this administration is headed,” said Matt Lewis in TheDailyBeast.com. The chief-of-staff position once bestowed an elite status and could lead to lucrative corporate jobs or a political career. But under Trump it is an invitation to be humiliated, fired, “chased out of restaurants,” and maybe even indicted. Ayers knows a losing bet when he sees one.
With Kelly out, all the “so-called adults in the room” are gone, except Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, said Marc Champion in Bloomberg.com. America’s allies in Europe and Asia had relied on stalwarts such as former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, and national security adviser H.R. McMaster to “constrain an unpredictable president.” But they’ve all been ousted or jumped ship, and Mattis seems weakened, having lost fights over the creation of a Space Force and sending troops to the southern border. Now more than ever, Trump is his own man.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty, Sumner Police Department