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Another Old Soldier Fades Away

President Donald Trump has announced that his chief of staff, the former four-star Marine General John F. Kelly, will soon make the latest inglorious exit from the administration. Kelly’s getting out while the getting’s still relatively good, as we see it, but not without his once sterling reputation tarnished.
Prior to signing on with Trump, Kelly commanded bipartisan respect. He not only had four stars on his shoulders but three bronze stars and numerous ribbons for valor in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots on his chest, and he endeared himself to establishment Republicans without much annoying the Democrats as he led the Western European and then America’s Southern Command. When he replaced Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican party chairman who once epitomized the effete Republican establishment that Trump gleefully trampled, both Democrats and all sorts of Republicans expressed hope that the tough-as-nails Marine could somehow impose some sort of discipline on a seemingly chaotic White House.
By the time Kelly arrived several of those “very best people” that Trump promised to appoint had already been defenestrated, including the national security advisor who has since pleaded guilty on several felony charges and been recommended by the prosecution for a minimal sentence given his cooperation with numerous other criminal investigations involving Trump’s campaign and administration, and Kelly quickly ousted several more, including that Omarosa woman from “The Apprentice” and various other Trump-related reality shows who held some high-level administration post or another, which was at least high-level enough she was the most high-level black woman in the White House. For a while the remarkable man who had served so successfully in three wars and the 1982 Los Angeles riots seemed up to the task, but over the long run the Democrats were disappointed, and so were such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves, and even Trump himself had reportedly stopped speaking to him as he wished him well on his way out of the door.
One of those “very best people” that Trump had appointed and Kelly had to fire was White House staff secretary Rob Porter, whose resume included excellent educational and career credentials but also credible and legally-filed charges by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend of domestic violence, and when Kelly did fire him after several disastrous news cycles he did so reluctantly and dishonestly and with kind words for the defenestrated employee and nothing to say about spousal abuse that tough old Marine general looked bad all the but the die-hard Trump fans. He grimaced when Trump spoke about the good people on both sides of a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but when all the military brass reassured their diverse personnel that they did not agree Kelly remained silent. When Trump wound up offending the family of a black soldier who had been killed in an unknown war in Niger he had ineptly tried to comfort, Kelly wound up insulting the family’s Congresswoman and personal friend, who is a ridiculous Democrat as we’re concerned, but the insult he made proved based on a lie and somehow wound up looking even more ridiculous. Along the way he also willing to make various other ridiculous defenses for indefensible White House missteps.
Kelly was also an outspoken proponent of Trump’s policy of enforcing America’s border laws as severely as possible, as was his hand-picked successor at the the Department of Homeland Security, but both fell into disfavor with Trump as border crossings into America’s still booming economy continued apace. The old school Kelly also seemed at odds with Trump on other issues, ranging from Trump’s penchant for nepotism and general lack of old school discipline, and particularly his disruptive policies toward the post-World War II era world order he’d fought so valiantly to defend. A while back Trump boasted that he knew far more about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization than the four-star Marine general who had once successfully led the West European Command, and that was when we knew that Kelly’s days as chief of staff were shortly numbered. As far as we can tell, Kelly wasn’t undone because of what he’d done wrong but rather because of what he’d done right.
At least it seems to have come a more or less fortuitous time. The special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has lately come up with some hard-to-explain court filings involving Trump’s former campaign chairman and lawyer and national security advisor, the latest economic news isn’t much to brag about, a Democratic majority in the House is about to be installed, while much of the slim Republican majority in the Seate is revolting against Trump’s friendliness with Saudi Arabia, and for now it’s not clear who might replace Kelly. The presumptive replacement was Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff, Nick Ayers, but it’s lately been reported that Trump is also consider ing dumping the obsequious Pence and Ayers has confirmed via “Twitter” that he doesn’t want the job and is also getting out of the administration while the getting’s still good.
Way back in the dark days of the Obama administration citizen Trump “tweeted” his dismay that the president had a third chief of staff in less than three years, but now Trump is searching around for the sucker to become his third chief of staff in less than two years, and we don’t expect any further “tweets” from him about it. As for Kelly, we wish him a happy retirement, despite it all.
We’ve known too many of those tough-as-nails men who fight our country’s battles to expect them to be politically correct about domestic abuse and racial issues and such, so we’ll chalk all of Kelly’s missteps up to being promoted by the wrong guy to the wrong job. He seems to have done his best to impose some discipline on Trump’s White House, and we admire any man who willingly walks into the quagmire.

— Bud Norman

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Shaking Up the White House, Except at the Top

Last week was a rough one for the administration of President Donald Trump, and even his most stubborn apologists can’t deny it.
Trump’s campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare once again went unfulfilled, this time seemingly for good. He was publicly rebuked by the Boy Scouts as well as numerous police chiefs for a couple of widely-panned speeches he recently gave on their behalf. The House and Senate sent him a nearly unanimously-passed and thus entirely veto-proof bill that imposes sanctions on Russia and limits his ability to do anything about it, which was also unmistakably a rebuke of his Russia-friendly campaign promises. Trump continued a war of words against his own Attorney General, who had inconveniently recused himself from the various investigations about Russia’s apparent efforts on behalf of Trump during the campaign, but several important congressional Republicans sternly warned him not to the fire the guy or otherwise try to interfere with all the ongoing inquiries.
There was a Trump-“tweeted” order for the military to no longer allow transgendered troops, but it apparently was a surprise to the vacationing defense secretary, the generals in charge of such things admitted they weren’t sure if a “tweet” was an official order, several important congressional Republicans were also among the critics, and the newly installed press secretary couldn’t answer such obvious questions as how it would affect any transgendered troops currently serving in hazardous duty. The press secretary was newly-installed because Trump had also forced the resignation of his communications director, whose successor almost immediately went on a profanity-laden rant to The New Yorker that very saltily slurred the White House’s chief of staff and chief strategist and threatened to either fire or kill countless other administration officials.
By the end of the week Trump also forced the resignation of his chief of staff, but the apologists are hoping that’s going to turn things around. Newly-installed in the job is John Kelly, who comes in after rising to four-star general rank in the Marines, serving for four years as commander of the United States’ Southern Command despite his frequent clashes with the administration of President Barack Obama over Guantamo Bay and the Mexican border and other issues, and for the past six months has been doing a provably efficient job of fulfilling Trump’s campaign promises about illegal immigration as head of the Department of Homeland Security. A Washington Post headline describes Kelly as someone who “won’t suffer idiots and fools,” and he has a hard-earned reputation for imposing the military-style discipline that even the most ardent apologists will admit the Trump administration sorely needs.
Kelly certainly seems a very formidable force, and we wish him well, if only because we’re exhausted keeping up with all the news these days, but we’ll wait and see how it turns out. It’s hard to see how he would have made much of a difference last week, so we hold out only faint hope for this week.
There’s plenty of blame to be spread around the Republican party for its failure to repeal and replace Obamacare, but it’s going to take a pretty ardent apologist to argue that Trump doesn’t bear some of it, and there’s no reason to think Kelly could have changed that. Kelly’s predecessor was Reince Priebus, who had previously risen through the Republican ranks to be chairman of the Republican National Committee, and with considerable help from Obama he was instrumental in electing many members of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate as well as a Republican president. That wasn’t enough to fulfill the party’s seven-year-old promise of repeal and replacement of Obamacare, as it turns out, but there’s nothing on Kelly’s otherwise impressive resume to suggest he’s any more familiar with health care policy or has any more sway with the suddenly rebellious Republican caucus in Congress.
Neither is there any reason to believe that Kelly would have had any more luck than Priebus in dissuading Trump from making those apologized-for orations to the Boy Scouts and law enforcement. Nor do we think Kelly could have staved off that nearly unanimous sanctions bill, and given his hawkish nature we wonder if he would have wanted to. Given his reputation for rock-solid integrity, and given that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was his best friend in congress during all the fights with the Obama administration over the southern border back in the Obama days, way back when Trump was firing people on “Celebrity Apprentice” and bad-mouthing the Republican nominee’s relatively mild “self-deportation” policy, it will be interesting to see how Kelly handles all that mess and how it affects all the rest of the mess with Russia.
There are plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments to be made against transgendered people serving in the military, but they’re hard to fit into a “tweet,” those 140 characters of social media can’t adequately explain to a vast bureaucracy or a lean White House Communications office how it should be carried out, and we doubt Kelly could have been any more successful in steering a more measured course of bureaucratic review and legally-hashed documents followed by a coordinated communications effort. The whole mess reminds of us when Trump “tweeted” a ban on travel from certain Islamic countries, which also had plenty of persuasive if politically incorrect arguments but hadn’t been run through any bureaucratic or legal review and wasn’t explained to the White House communications team, and what a mess that turned out to be. The cabinet secretary that Trump hadn’t bothered to consult in that case was Secretary of Homeland Security Kelly, but maybe he’ll have better luck next time.
We can, at least, hold out more than faint hope Kelly will be able impose some severe military-style discipline on that newly-installed White House communications director with the foul mouth and tough-guy persona. Former Wall Street shark Anthony Scaramucci got the job and quickly forced the resignation of the previous chief of staff, whom he had so memorably described in that New Yorker rant, but that chief strategist he even more memorably described is still on the job, and the new chief of staff is said not to suffer fools and idiots, so we figure the four-star Marine general will prove the tougher in the inevitable fights.
There’s nothing Kelly can do to shake up the White House that will shake out Trump or his daughter and a son-in-law, however, or shake away all the investigations about Russia or the increasing rebelliousness of the Republicans in congress. Trump was resistant to military-style discipline back when ┬áhis father shipped him off to a military school, hasn’t much changed at age 71, and even such a formidable force as Kelly seems unlikely to restrain his “tweeting” thumbs and oratorical impetuousness, or forestall future rough weeks.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting and Twisting the GOP

The internecine Republican feuding has lately become more complicated. It’s still the same old story of the establishment versus the insurgents, the squishy moderates versus the principled conservatives, and the real Republicans versus the Republicans In Name Only, but the days it’s hard to tell who’s on which side. At this point in the plot President Donald Trump is “tweeting” threats against the House of Representative’s “Freedom Caucus,” so all the old labels of establishment and insurgent and principled and squishy no longer make any sense, and who the real Republicans are is very much up for debate.
As a relatively recent Republican Trump won the party’s nomination with a plurality of primary and caucus votes by running as an outsider and populist renegade hellbent on burning down the hated GOP establishment, as exemplified by party chairman Reince Priebus and House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, but following his improbable win of the electoral vote he seem surprised to find that he suddenly was the establishment. After running on grandiose promises of repealing Obamacare within days of taking office and replacing it with coverage for everyone at and lower costs and so beautiful it would make your head spin, Trump made Priebus his White House Chief of Staff and turned to Ryan McConnell to make good on his word, then went off to golf at his fabulous Mar-a-Lago resort, as populists do.
That was fine with the plurality of the party that now defines Republicanism as obeisance to Trump, and when it all went down in flames many of them were eager to blame Priebus and Ryan and McConnell and the rest of the hated establishment who had hoodwinked the naive Trump, even if he had also been elected because of his boasts of being both anti-establishment and the savviest deal-maker ever, and there was plenty of blame to be spread around the whole party. Some of those squishy moderates who somehow survived the past six years of insurgent anti-establishment primary purges bucked the party line on the bill because they were cowed by its 17 percent approval rating and all the looming sob stories from the 24 million people expected to lose health care coverage the first three years of premium hikes that were also forecast. More votes were lost from the “Freedom Caucus,” the same insurgent populists who had gained office by running on the original “Tea Party” wave of dissatisfaction with the Republican establishment, as they objected to the bill because it didn’t fully repeal Obamacare and replaced it with something that retained too many of the taxes and regulations and outrageous infringements of free market principles and individual liberty that the entirety of the party had claimed to be against from the get-go.
Trump took to “Twitter” to blame the “Freedom Caucus” members and threaten them with primary challenges by more obeisant Republicans if they didn’t come around. “The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don’t get on the team, & fast,” Trump “tweeted,” adding with similar eloquence that “We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!” Later “tweets” mentioned individual members by name, with similar political intimidation repeated, which leaves us wondering what the Republican establishment but not doubting that it’s likely to be burned down.
The “tweets” don’t seem likely to settle the matter, though, as the “Freedom Caucus” members defiantly “tweeted” back in Trump’s own blustery style. Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie responded with a snarky “#Swampcare polls 17%. Sad!” Virginia Rep. Tom Garrett of Virginia “tweeted” a simple “Stockholm Syndrome?” to suggest that Trump was now stuck with the hated establishment label. None appeared to be at all intimidated, and we can’t see why they should be. It’s easy to resist a populist movement that’s polling 17 percent in the polls, which is truly is sad, Trump’s numbers are hovering around 40 at a time when a president should be getting a honeymoon bump, and most of those “Freedom Caucus” members won their districts by bigger margins than Trump. Some of them really believe what they ran on, too, and can more persuasively argue why they voted against the bill Trump backed than Trump can argue for it.
To the extent that they can’t “tweet” the argument, conservative media ranging from the rabble-rousing radio talkers to the old eggheaded and think-tanky ink-and-paper publications will make it for them. Given that Trump’s remaining support won’t listen to any media that isn’t explicitly conservative, that’s a problem. Some of the conservative media are by now obeisant to Trump, but given their past full-throated supported for the “Freedom Caucus” and its anti-establishment stand they’re going to have some tricky talking to do. There are still enough Democrats hanging around Congress that Trump will need pretty much Republican vote to “get on the team, & fast,” which will be hard to do with a party that prides itself on its rugged individualism and stubborn independence and despite a certain reverence for order and tradition has lately come to regard any sort of establishment as needing to be burned down.
All of which leaves the Republicans with a whole lot of soul-searching about what their party really stands for. Given the current state of the Democratic Party, the country desperately needs the Republicans to get on with it.

— Bud Norman