You could hear the collective exhaling in Washington as President Trump’s new chief of staff assumed his command Monday, after another awesome week in which Trump first seemed set on handing over his White House to a bombastic financier exactly like himself, then stood by as his mini-me publicly eviscerated the president’s loyal chief of staff, and then kicked them both to the curb in quick succession.
“No WH chaos!” Trump declared in a tweet, proving yet again that whenever the president wakes up tweeting, there’s pretty much a 100 percent chance that what he’s saying is the inverse of the truth.
Republicans are counting on John Kelly, a popular and decorated general, to put the presidency on a calmer course. They’re hoping Trump will actually listen to Kelly’s counsel and allow him to instill some discipline into the whole operation.
And yet they might be missing the point. Generals are great at plotting strategy and establishing protocols and getting supplies to the front. But even in war, they rely on a leader to define the political objective.
The pressing question here isn’t whether Kelly can run a more efficient White House than his predecessor. (Honestly, my kid’s camp counselor could pull that off.)
The question is: to what end?
As I’ve said before, it was always Trump’s second White House staff — not the training-wheels version — that was going to tell us what kind of president he ultimately intended to be. And if I were a Republican on the Hill right now, I’d be starting to wonder if Trump actually plans to be a Republican president, or some other kind altogether.
Remember that Trump is only nominally a Republican to begin with. When I met him in the late 1990s (we hung out at Trump Tower and went to dinner with Alec Baldwin, believe it or not), Trump was disdainful of politicians and their predictable ideologies, generally.
At that time, he was an avowed independent fluent in the language of libertarianism as it’s spoken on Wall Street — favoring strong borders along with lower taxes and less government interference, in both the boardroom and the bedroom.
Trump really only became a Republican, later, by default, because he despised President Obama as some kind of foreign-born interloper — a fiction he championed for years and for reasons I will leave to a psychologist. You’d have to believe he entered the Republican primaries last year because it was a whole lot easier than building an independent campaign from…