Here are the facts as we see them laid out before us.
- President Donald Trump was surrounded with more voices and responsibilities than he’d ever anticipated. “This s**t is hard.”
- His White House had become a sea of stress, chaos, and ill discipline.
- His agenda was in tatters, with only one accomplishment–Justice Gorsuch–to show.
- He and his family were ever-more deeply embroiled in scandal and Russian interference stories that he simply could not make go away.
- The White House leaked like a sieve and nobody trusted Trump (or his family) enough to tell him who is leaking.
- Trump had made a deal with “the establishment,” that in fact won him the Republican nomination and the White House, to try things “the Washington way,” but that deal had crumbled with his loss of respect for Reince Priebus.
- There was increasingly nobody the president could turn to, who he could trust.
- His presidency was failing.
I think that about covers it.
When Trump first sought out Gen. John Kelly, it was to take the Chief of Staff position. Trump loves “the generals.” We could see it before he even took office, holding fort with them at Mar-a-Lago over Christmas. He wanted to surround himself with generals: Kelly, McMaster, Flynn.
Flynn was taken out–as Trump saw it–by leaks. And since the day he took office, he’s suffered a thousand cuts by leakers. Trump fires Comey for not dealing with the leakers on Russia and not publicly exonerating his boss (this was undoubtedly the real reason at the root of everything).
Finally, desperate, Trump’s family implores him to get rid of Priebus, a party man who doesn’t do things the “Trump way.” So he brings in Mooch the Fixer to torpedo Priebus, and it works.
But the leaks are still there, with Scaramucci’s embarrassing fail with Ryan Lizza now reflecting poorly on Trump. Now the Russians, the Iranians, and the North Koreans decide to start making trouble.
Trump couldn’t–can’t–even talk to his own lawyers (the lead attorney, Marc Kasowitz, he also fired) without fear of the press learning everything.
When Trump fired Comey, John Kelly reportedly nearly quit Homeland Security in protest, but Comey convinced him to stay.
With no real options left (who would work for Trump at this point?), the president turned to Kelly: “Save my presidency.”
What Kelly likely heard was “save our country.” No leader at Kelly’s level wants to see America’s enemies take advantage of the chaos. He may have had some conditions–or at least one: “Everyone reports to me.”
That was confirmed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters today:
MS. SANDERS: As we’ve laid out, General Kelly I think will bring new structure to the White House and discipline and strength. And we’re all really excited to work with him. And in terms of — I’m not going to draw out an org chart up here, but we’ll keep you guys posted as —
Q So Steve Bannon, Kellyanne, everyone reports under him instead of going straight to the President with issues? Does every special assistant go to General Kelly first?
MS. SANDERS: I think I’ve been clear that General Kelly has the full authority to carry out business as he sees fit.
Q — you said earlier, all staff will report to the new Chief of Staff. Does that include Jared Kushner? Does that include Steve Bannon? Everyone reports to Kelly?
MS. SANDERS: That includes everybody at the White House.
It obviously included Anthony Scaramucci, who bridled at losing his carte blanche Oval Office pass, and was immediately sacked and escorted from the White House. Now the close-knit cabal of trusted aides may move into front-line positions.
Two perennial candidates to fill the post are Kellyanne Conway, a White House senior adviser and the president’s former campaign manager, and Jason Miller, who held the communications post during the campaign. Mr. Trump has long wanted to bring Mr. Miller, who serves as an informal adviser, into the administration.
One thing is certain. If John Kelly is to save Trump’s presidency, he will need all the authority Trump can give a man besides himself. That means access to the president, by phone, visit, or other communications, must go through Kelly. It hopefully means the 4 a.m. tweets will stop–or be cleared through the general.
We don’t know the exact “deal” Trump made with Kelly, but, from the facts, we can argue it is the desperate plea of a drowning president.