The firing of bombastic White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci could mean any number of things.
Perhaps the ascent of Gen. John Kelly, the new chief of staff and the man who fired Scaramucci, indicates that a modicum of normalcy is about to be instituted in the West Wing. This is the best-case scenario for Donald Trump.
Or maybe Kelly will be pushed out of his position before I finish writing this post.
Could go either way.
Because that sort of thing happens in 2017. Scaramucci was asked to leave his job after a mere 11 days — and after helping facilitate the ousting of former chief of staff Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor. If his tenure seemed longer than two working weeks, it’s probably because the ordinary political functionary takes years to cram as many notable incidents into his resume. The highlight of Scaramucci’s tenure, of course, was an entertaining, expletive-laden meta-interview with Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker. In it the excitable Scaramucci suggested that White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon — himself rumored to be on the cutting block last week — engaged in what (one hopes) was metaphorical self-fellatio.
While Scaramucci may have quickly recognized what most folks in Washington do best — figuratively speaking, of course — this wasn’t the right job for him. Although I don’t hold the same disdain for Scaramucci’s affectations as others (chalk it up to my Northeastern upbringing), it was obvious immediately that he was ill-suited to convey the administration’s positions, whatever they may be, to either the press or the American people. Which is problematic for a communication specialist.
(According to the Wall Street Journal, Scaramucci is expected to keep his position at the cronyistic Export-Import Bank — an institution that Trump not so long ago accused of “featherbedding” big corporations. But that’s another story.)
If you’re a Trump fan, and you’re looking for the bright side of all of this, you could be somewhat heartened that Kelly didn’t let the problem fester. According to numerous reports, the former secretary of Homeland Security summoned Scaramucci to his office right after he was sworn in and asked him to resign. “Kelly wanting to turn the page,” one administration source told Axios. “New culture. Mooch no discipline. Thought he’d burned his credibility.”
It might seem counterintuitive to argue that an administration headed by a man who spent a decade telling people “You’re fired” on television needs someone on his staff who isn’t shy about cutting people lose for incompetence or for leaking or for losing credibility or for failing to support the president’s agenda with the appropriate vigor. But, judging from his passive-aggressive tweets and dysfunctional professional relationships, Donald Trump is clearly not that man.
In the end, it’s all on the president. Can Kelly control him? Take away his phone? Seems inconceivable. But perhaps he can mitigate some of the dysfunction. This president was never going to listen to pointy-headed Washington lifers. Maybe he’ll occasionally listen to a general. Maybe Kelly can push back against the machinations of Jared and Ivanka — whose politics do not comport with the promises of the president and whose strategies help foster chaos — and the other quarreling factions swirling around the president. Maybe Kelly can inject a dose of professionalism into the basic, everyday workings of the presidency. If not, we can look forward to three more years, at least, of chaos.
Many of us are so obsessed with politics we sometimes forget that the White House is the executive branch of the American government. Setting aside Republicans’ hopes for policy victories and Democrats’ anticipation that investigations will prove collusion, if the perception (and in this case, the reality) is that the White House is in a state of perpetual disarray, it undermines the most basic functions of government.
Whatever the future holds, the fact is that neither Priebus nor Scaramucci was helping make the situation any better.