How checked-out is Kelly? Nine days ago Politico reported that he’d begun working out later in the morning, during prime business hours as the nominal right-hand man to the most powerful person on earth. Imagine doing that in any job you’ve ever had, let alone being White House chief of staff. So dejected has he become at Trump’s insistence on doing things his own chaotic way, if you believe Politico, that he’s quit trying to stop him.
There’s an old episode of “Married With Children” where Peg wins a contest entitling her to sessions with a famous personal trainer. He shows up to the Bundy home brimming with Richard-Simmons-style enthusiasm, ready to help her conquer the world and achieve all her fitness dreams. Within two weeks he’s fat, lazy, couch-bound, eating bonbons next to Peg while they watch daytime TV. In a test of wills between someone whose life was built on health, order, and discipline and one whose life was built on indulgence, disorder, and excess, discipline didn’t just lose, it was crushed utterly.
You see where I’m going with this?
That episode ended with the personal trainer eventually keeling over, unable to withstand the stresses that the Peg Bundy lifestyle placed on him. So too in our real-world analogue:
President Donald Trump is consulting with advisers about whom he should tap as his next chief of staff, with John Kelly expected to depart the administration as early as this summer, possibly even this week, according to people familiar with the matter.
The two front-runners for the job, the people said, are Nick Ayers, who serves as chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, and Mick Mulvaney, who heads the Office of Management and Budget as well as serving as acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau…
Mr. Kelly has told colleagues he doesn’t intend to stay in the role beyond his one- year mark, which is July 31. People close to the White House said that departure could come as early as this week or could follow the president’s mid-July trip to Europe, where he will attend the North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit and meet with the leaders of the U.K. and Russia.
Asked for comment, the White House naturally told the Journal that its report was “fake news.” But that itself is fake news, according to Axios. Their own sources have confirmed that Trump’s been looking at Ayers and Mulvaney, who already heads OMB *and* the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and seems on track to hold every major administration position in time as Trump fatigue leads to attrition among the cabinet. He’s becoming the baseball utility player who ends up fielding all nine positions in a single game, although typically that’s done as a stunt and in this case it’s something of a necessity. The Journal notes that 61 percent of the people who have held the rank of assistant to the president have already quit, much higher than any other president by this point dating back to Reagan.
As for the current chief, Axios claims that “Several people who currently work in the administration have lobbied the president to get rid of Kelly. And many more of Trump’s interlocutors outside the White House have lobbied him to get rid of Kelly, too.” There’s every reason to believe it: Kelly’s innovation upon taking over from Reince Priebus was to institute a rigid gate-keeping system in which even Ivanka and Jared would need to request time to see POTUS during the day. Trump confidantes resented losing access, and some lost more than that. A few were axed by Kelly, most famously Anthony Scaramucci and Omarosa. There are a *lot* of scores to be settled with him by TrumpWorld.
The new gate-keeping system seems to have begun breaking down after the Rob Porter fiasco, since Porter was a key aide to Kelly in controlling the flow of information to Trump. Trump also reportedly has felt less need for gate-keeping as he’s grown more comfortable in the job and begun to exert his will over policy, like on trade. He no longer needs a babysitter — or at least doesn’t feel like he needs one. When the Journal asked Steve Bannon whom he thought would replace Kelly, Bannon essentially replied that it doesn’t matter. The role of chief of staff will likely be ceremonial going forward. Just as there’s really only one true communications director in the White House — sorry, Bill Shine — there’s really only one true center of power in the West Wing, and it ain’t the chief. To the extent Mulvaney isn’t doing every job in the cabinet by 2020, Trump will be.
I’d be surprised if Kelly quit before his one-year anniversary in the job next month, but if he’s at the working-out-during-business-hours stage, why prolong it? If you want background on his and Trump’s gradually deteriorating relationship, you’ll find some here.