Why General John Kelly Is Trump’s Last Hope
Michael Duffy6:03 AM ET
To the men and women of the Trump White House–the curious, the hopeful, the desperate and the dubious–the all-hands summons was a little out of the ordinary.It invited everyone to a meeting the next day in an unusual place: not a room in the cramped West Wing or the much larger South Court Auditorium, which is typically used for such sessions, but the quieter marbled entryway of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, next to the White House.
After almost 200 days of infighting, leaks and operatic staff shake-ups, morale was running a bit thin. Hundreds of people, including dozens who have been exiled from the West Wing for a sorely needed renovation, turned up to meet the new boss.No introduction was needed. John Kelly simply stepped to the microphone and said, “Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m from Boston.” As the President’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and other senior aides watched from the wings, the retired four-star Marine general then rallied the embattled troops and laid down new rules of engagement.
He urged his staff to stop the infighting and set their egos and agendas (and any leaking) aside. With a nod to the Marine credo–God, Country, Corps–he told his audience that they must start serving a hierarchy that put the nation, and not the President, first: “Country, President, Self,” he said.Photograph by Mike Morones—Military Times So began a new era at Donald Trump’s White House, one that might be his best, or last, chance for success.
Almost overnight, Kelly shut the always-open door to the Oval Office, sent hangers-on back to their desks, fired the combustible communications director Anthony Scaramucci and told all the leaders of all the many White House factions to report to him, not to the President. No one knows whether Kelly will succeed, how long he might last or if the general’s starched-shirt discipline will be rejected by the client. Early results were mixed, and skeptics are not hard to find. But Kelly clearly arrived with a mission: to fix a broken system that the nation and the world depends on every day to keep the ship called Earth in the middle of the channel.RELATEDPROTESTSMeet the Man Behind the Giant Inflatable Chicken Mocking President TrumpOf course, almost any new order is better than the chaos that reigned in the White House before July 31. “It’s at rock bottom,” said one White House aide of the mood when Kelly took over.
That doesn’t mean brighter days ahead. “Well, with this White House, it could always get worse.”But under Kelly, 67, that seems unlikely, both because Kelly won’t permit it and because Trump, who defers to virtually no one, shows a clear preference for, and deference to, the military brass. It’s a bit of a mystery why. Perhaps because he went to a military academy for five years, or because he imagines that they will do whatever he says, or because he just likes tough guys with a killer instinct, Trump likes generals.
Rarely in U.S. history has a clutch of senior brass played such an outsize role in the affairs of state as they do now. The President’s chief of staff, his Defense Secretary James Mattis and his National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster are all either active-duty or retired generals. What makes the arrangement all the more interesting is that the three men are not only friends but longtime allies. Two of the three are Marines, and when you add Joseph Dunford, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs (who, with Kelly, served under Mattis), it is safe to say the scrappy Marine Corps has never had so much clout in the chain of command.ADVERTISINGThe deep bonds and know-how of that team may have already done the nation a great service. This summer, as the threats from North Korea increased while confusion dominated in the White House, the generals quietly launched a mission of their own. Mattis, McMaster and Dunford (as well as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson) were concerned enough about the conduct of foreign policy to work together to convince a skeptical Kelly to become chief of staff. Their argument: unless someone else takes over, this White House cannot handle a real crisis. Which means that when Trump asked Kelly for the third time to be his chief of staff, it wasn’t just a job offer. It was a call of duty.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster listens during the daily press briefing at the White House, July 31, 2017, in Washington. Evan Vucci—AP Friends say that, almost to a person, John Francis Kelly is defined by his blue collar roots in Boston, where he was born in 1950 and where men of his generation and class proceeded directly from getting their draft notices to taking their physicals. If they passed that test, they immediately joined the Marine Corps. This tradition remains Kelly’s lodestar. “In the America I grew up in,” he said in a 2016 Marine interview commemorating his career, “every male was a veteran–my dad, my uncles, all the people on the block.” It was a tradition ……………………………….