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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 4:02 pm | Fair 67º


Jamie Stiehm: John Kelly at Center of Donald Trump’s Latest White House Chaos

The chaotic White House has ceased to amuse or amaze us. It’s time to view the “Trump Amateur Hour” as a tale of tragic proportions.

Dramas distract us in nearly every news cycle. The latest churn does not bode well for the Oval state of mind. Attorney General Jefferson Sessions at last stood his ground facing President Donald Trump’s fury at the Russian investigation.

Meanwhile, as Trump flails on gun violence, staff turnover is breaking records as people leave, ducking for cover. Soon we’ll see his biggest problem (besides himself): White House chief of staff John Kelly, stone cold deaf to political winds.

Trump’s favorite, Hope Hicks, is walking out the White House door. At 29, she became director of communications and, unofficially, the best manager of the mercurial Trump temper. For that alone she earned her keep.

The stylish Hicks steamed Trump’s suits (while he was wearing them) between campaign stops. She just confessed in a House committee hearing that she told little “white lies” for her boss. This earned the darling a royal smack — a bit like Catherine Howard, fifth wife of Henry VIII.

Soon Hicks will join ex-boyfriend Rob Porter, 40, out in the cold. Porter, a smooth West Wing player, was the staff secretary accused of violence by two ex-wives interviewed by the FBI. He left in disgrace this winter, though Trump deeply regretted his exit. Porter gave a Harvard sheen to the place and had a clue about how high government works.

Poor Jared Kushner is seething over his cut from top-secret clearance matters, courtesy of Kelly. Trump’s son-in-law (like him, a family real estate mogul) was so close to brokering a Middle East peace that you really have to feel for him.

In Washington, among journalists, we ask the rhetorical question: Have you ever heard Kushner speak?

Nor is his wife, Ivanka Trump, finding her special adviser role a rose garden. When pressed by reporters about several women who have accused her father of sexual misconduct or infidelity, she pleaded family privilege. The late President Ronald Reagan’s daughter, Patti Davis, and others criticized her moxie in mixing public and private. Clearly an inherited trait.

It’s bad news for our side that Kelly, whose face is hardened into a scowl, is a survivor of the White House tumult. The best chiefs, as we know from Chris Whipple, author of the excellent book The Gatekeepers, possess a deft touch, a fine-tuning fork and the strength to tell the president things he doesn’t want to hear.

Internally, the former four-star Marine Corps general imposed discipline on Trump’s disorganized daily routine. That’s a fine task he mastered. But externally, Kelly has failed on every count.

First, he refused to contain Trump’s tweetstorms, showing his narrow definition of the job. Second, he acted indifferent after the Charlottesville, Va., summer race riot, standing there in his trench coat while his new boss ranted that “very fine people” were on both sides. No problem, his stance said, just obeying orders.

Sadly, Kelly is a harsh, rigid character who has yet to say one good word in the public square. He called African-American Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., an “empty barrel.” When further insults turned out to be false, he never apologized.

Kelly’s record on women worsened when we learned he was familiar with the FBI report on Porter’s ex-wives’ accounts, which investigators found credible. Porter failed to get a full clearance for that reason. But Kelly approved of his “true integrity and honor.” So he stayed at his sensitive post until a public uproar ensued.

There is no greater flash point than immigration. Trump promised to sign any bill Congress sent him. The Senate cobbled together a bipartisan bill with care. Kelly, formerly head of the Homeland Security Department, played partisan (not chief of staff) and shot it down. He remarked that young immigrants who had not registered for the “Dreamers” program were “too lazy to get off their asses.”

Trump has a certain fancy for generals. Too bad Kelly was an officer, but not a gentleman.

Jamie Stiehm writes about politics, culture and history as a weekly Creators Syndicate columnist and regular contributor to U.S. News & World Report. Follow her on Twitter: @jamiestiehm. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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