White House sources told the Wall Street Journal that President Trump asked Chief of Staff John Kelly to stay in the position on Tuesday. The news came as a shock to many in the Beltway who viewed their relationship as often strained.
Journalists have long speculated that Kelly would be leaving the White House, and many expected his resignation or firing to come sometime this summer. Kelly has often looked exasperated while Trump is speaking, leading many in the press to insist he was frustrated with the president’s off the cuff remarks.
At a press conference in October, Kelly silenced the rumors that he was quitting and stated that the media had confused for irritated expressions times when he was merely deep in thought.
— USA TODAY Politics (@usatodayDC) October 12, 2017
However, the rumors continued beyond the fall of 2017, regaining traction in early 2018. The narrative shaped quickly. Kelly is a retired four-star general who prizes structure and order. Trump is erratic and bizarre, prone to make impulse decisions. The two mixed like oil and water, says the narrative.
Given the already volatile White House, most media suggested that Kelly might be the next departure out the administration’s revolving door. His exit was just a matter of time, and whispers from unnamed sources filled news reports. Kelly is trying to control Trump. Ivanka is searching for new blood to take Kelly’s spot.
Trump can hardly afford another high-level staff departure—but that doesn't mean John Kelly won't be the next to leave https://t.co/iraEEg5iHD
— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) January 23, 2018
Trump can’t force Kelly out through his usual bully tactics because Kelly is absolutely miserable and wants to leave anyways.
Intriguing @Axios insight into the WH turmoil & John Kelly's future.
Trump "usually makes their lives miserable, publicly humiliates them. But now he’s up against somebody who doesn’t care and would happily leave.”https://t.co/jsI0QqhQ6N
— Harriet Alexander (@h_alexander) February 10, 2018
The VP said months instead of years. Firing is imminent.
Mike Pence yesterday on COS John Kelly: “I look forward to working with him for many, many months to come.” Months, not years. Sounds like there’s some kind of (unstated?) understanding Kelly will leave at some point, perhaps after the midterms.
— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) February 15, 2018
The rapid rates of departure are a sign of a frantic White House, unable to function and adapt. John Kelly’s inevitable exit will surely be the nail in its coffin.
Will John Kelly be the next to leave the White House? https://t.co/OpRBvkZkKp
— FiveThirtyEight (@FiveThirtyEight) February 16, 2018
From The New York Times to Reuters, the blue checkmarks all agreed: Kelly’s tenure as chief of staff would end before summer did.
— Reuters U.S. News (@ReutersUS) February 23, 2018
Is John Kelly about to leave the White House? New report says he recently went nuclear on Trump https://t.co/isoqp2Wla4
— TheBlaze (@theblaze) April 8, 2018
John Kelly has referred to Trump as "an idiot" multiple times, NBC News reports.
Some current and former officials said they expect Kelly to leave by July, and that Trump and Kelly seem to have tired of each other. https://t.co/LltG93gcaM
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 30, 2018
White House Memo: John Kelly now finds himself in the position where several others who have worked for Trump have landed: aware that their jobs have become close to untenable and knowing that it is only a matter of when — not if — they will have to leave https://t.co/YEDSeg5t8i
— NYT Politics (@nytpolitics) May 3, 2018
Chief of Staff John Kelly Expected to Leave WH This Summer: Reporthttps://t.co/yUht6pcAQV
— IJR (@TheIJR) June 29, 2018
— The Hill (@thehill) June 28, 2018
These tweets are only scratching the surface of commentators and outlets who were confident that Trump would give Kelly the boot. For months, media reported that Kelly’s days were numbered. You can find more examples here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Even after the WSJ confirmed that Kelly would stay through 2020, and CNN had reported that this was the case, CNN political commentator Chris Cillizza voiced doubts that Kelly would actually last that long. Cillizza showed some self-awareness in one of the first paragraphs of an article on the subject, asking, “How the heck did we go from ‘Kelly is a dead man walking’ to ‘Kelly is in through 2020’?”
— Chris Cillizza (@ChrisCillizza) August 1, 2018
From there, Cilizza doubles down on the original premise that all of the media couldn’t have been wrong and compares the relationship to two middle schoolers vowing to be best friends forever. The agreement is shallow and won’t last the test of time, he says. Trump is too volatile, Kelly too structured.
The media’s reporting on Kelly’s status gives the impression that the media really wants there to be problems between the president and his chief of staff. Despite consistently being wrong, predictions from unnamed sources keep coming on how Kelly only has days left.
I don’t doubt that Trump is a difficult person for a former Marine to follow. However, Kelly has a deep devotion to America and a sense that he’s needed in his role. Likewise, at the very least, Trump wants to spite the media intent on running “White House in shambles” stories. His commitment to that likely runs deeper than any annoyance with staff.
The breathless takes of the past year feel foolish. The widespread consensus in them is even more troubling. Perhaps Trump asking Kelly to stay was actually that big of a surprise. But maybe the press was looking for a story that it wanted to see, rather than the one actually at hand.