There are many variants of the adage to “send in the Marines” when swift and immediate action is needed. For the Trump presidency, that time is now.
After six months, there is little doubt that a major shakeup is desperately needed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And outside of changing the president, the White House chief of staff is the best place to start. That position is often called the toughest job in government, especially considering the average tenure is a little less than two years.
After Iran Contra and mumblings about a disengaged Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, former Sen. Howard Baker stepped in to help refocus the ship in the late 1980s. Likewise, Leon Panetta and North Carolina’s Erskine Bowles brought discipline to a Bill Clinton presidency after one of the most disastrous starts in modern history. Clinton’s low approval point in his first term is still below most of Trump’s current polling.
Retired Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, has quickly been tagged as a rising star in Trump’s White House, especially for speaking truth on border security and working fervently to bring some normalcy to Trump’s signature and often most contentious campaign issue. Kelly wisely has chided Congress too for trying to cede law through the executive branch on immigration, telling lawmakers to change the law if they want enforcement of Deferred Action for Immigrant Arrivals programs (DACA). Kelly’s impeccable military record is nearly unmatched and has bipartisan support given his long stint outside of politics as a Marine officer.
Kelly replaces the former popular Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus as chief of staff and might be off to a good start. He quickly canned White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, (a.k.a. “The Mooch”) for basically being a blowhard and a giant distraction. “The Mooch,” who sounds more like a character from the film “Goodfellas,” did not even make it to his official start date of August 15 before imploding on the job. Scarammuci’s profanity laced rant to a reporter was a major embarrassment even for what many are convinced is a White House more akin to a circus.
Trump, of course, is aggressive in his pushback that his administration is not in chaos, but the revolving doors highlight an inability for the White House to stay on message and show restraint. Kelly is known as a no-nonsense leader and it’s hard to believe he would have accepted the job without having enforcement authority over employees in the West Wing. It’s nearly impossible to imagine Trump altering his brashness or combative leadership style too. However, clearly the two have bonded in what is fair to call a tumultuous environment.The addition of Kelly and loss of Priebus may spell challenges for Trump’s legislative agenda. Priebus was widely popular with Republicans on Capitol Hill, especially House Speaker Paul Ryan, while Kelly has few deep relationships with federal lawmakers. It’s less apparent if Kelly has a commitment to limited government and the kind of conservatism that many Republicans in Washington are sorely lacking now.
The chief of staff positon has broken some of America’s greatest leaders. Donald T. Regan, a Marine officer during some of the fiercest island hopping campaigns in the Pacific Theater in World War II, did not survive the Reagan White House. H.R. Haldeman, the first modern White House chief of staff, served 18 months in prison after Watergate. Donald Rumsfield who was Gerald Ford’s chief of staff described his job this way: “It was like climbing into a cockpit of a crippled plane in flight and trying to land it safely.”
Trump has tremendous flaws and lacks discipline which can be contagious for those who serve at the pleasure of the president. It’s Kelly’s job to bring order to the seeming chaos. Republicans should be rooting for Kelly’s success in the new position, but so should all those who still love this nation.