Priebus is out, Trump names Kelly chief of staff amid broader White House shake-up
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - President Donald Trump announced Friday afternoon that Gen. John F. Kelly, the current Secretary of Homeland Security, will take Reince Priebus's position as the White House chief of staff.
In a pair of tweets, the president said, "I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American ... and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration"
He then thanked his outgoing chief of staff Reince Priebus for his service and dedication, saying, "We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!"
Trump's appointment of the retired four-star Marine general to manage the personnel and affairs of the West Wing is the latest in a series of major shake-ups at the White House.
James Pfiffner, public policy professor George Mason University reacted to Gen. Kelly stepping in to replace Reince Priebus, noting that "being a chief of staff in the military is entirely different from being a White House chief of staff. In the military, you are almost certain that your boss will back you up, as long as you are reasonable (as will most presidents)."
Given the current environment in the White House, Kelly may not have that same assurance. "It will be a challenge."
On Friday, July 21, Sean Spicer stepped down as the press secretary handing the podium over to Sarah Huckabee Sanders. That same day, Trump offered the top White House communications position to Scaramucci, the 53-year-old former Wall Street financier and long-time personal friend to Trump with an out-sized personality and "colorful" communications style.
From his first day on the job, Scaramucci professed his loyalty and love for the president, promising to fire any member of the White House staff responsible for leaking damaging information to the press.
"I'm going to fire every one of them," Scaramucci said in his profanity-laced telephone call with reporter Ryan Lizza. "They'll all be fired by me ... I fired one guy the other day. I have three to four people I'll fire tomorrow."
Reince Priebus was apparently one of those people, proving that just because you're "paranoid" doesn't mean they aren't out to get you.
The new bull in the White House press shop also attacked the other center of power in the White House, chief strategist and former Breitbart manager Steve Bannon. Scaramucci lambasted Bannon for disloyalty (and worse) and for trying to build his "own brand off the ... strength of the president."
The White House has repeatedly tried to shut down rumors about the infighting within the administration. But it spilled out very publicly this week between Scaramucci's tirade against Priebus and Bannon, and President Trump's suggestion that Attorney General Jeff Sessions could be fired.
In an interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group earlier this week, the president's counselor Kellyanne Conway demurred when asked about major staff changes.
"I'm not going to get ahead of the president in terms of any personnel decision," she said, "but I would remind you that since basically the day we walked in here six plus months ago, there’s been palace intrigue story after story after story."
According for experts, the palace intrigue and power struggles within this White House are typical of Donald Trump.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders described the environment as "healthy competition."
"The president likes that type of competition and encourages it," she told reporters on Thursday.
"I think [Donald Trump] may be the only person in the White House who is really happy with all the chaos," she noted. "Because that makes him the one fixed point. It makes everybody scared ... and super loyal to him, not to each other."
Creating that kind of chaotic and hyper-competitive dynamic is part of Trump's management style. "He calls is 'creative competition,'" Blair continued. "He has people on his staff, sets them against each other, sometimes giving them overlapping responsibilities ... It's exactly the same M.O. as throughout his career."
His approach has proven successful in certain situations in business and negotiating real estate deals, she noted, "whether that management style can actually work in a government where Trump is not the boss of everything, that's a real question."
Changing the leadership in the West Wing may not help the president overcome the difficulties that have plagued the first six months of his presidency including constant leaks and a stalled policy agenda, according to Daniel Drezner, Tufts University professor.
After six months in office, Donald Trump's approval ratings are sitting just under 40 percent. The president has issued a number of executive orders, signed a handful of regulatory repeals into law and got his Supreme Court pick appointed, but he has yet to score a major legislative win.
Trump's agenda was further frustrated early on Friday morning when GOP efforts to make good on a 7-year campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare crashed and burned on the Senate floor.
Faced with similar challenges to their agenda, previous outsider presidents like Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton brought in seasoned political veterans like Howard Baker and David Gergen to help right the ship, Drezner explained.
"What Trump is doing is the exact opposite. He is actually getting rid of what few insiders he's had associated with him and instead bringing in people that are like him on steroids," he noted, predicting that Scaramucci will be "an unmitigated disaster."
The appointment of Gen. Kelly to be chief of staff follows the same pattern of behavior.
"Kelly has had a distinguished military career but chief of staff is a political job and therefore unfamiliar terrain for him," Drezner said. "He's still an outsider."
The leaks, which Scaramucci has promised to stamp out, are also not likely to go away and could even accelerate under Scaramucci's heavy hand. It is also unclear whether Gen. Kelly can instill the kind of military discipline that many would expect him to bring to the West Wing into a group of staffers.
Trump has repeatedly emphasized the importance of loyalty, and having people around him whom he can trust, but creating a hyper competitive atmosphere in the White House could backfire, resulting in more leaks and greater difficulties for Trump in staffing up the executive branch.
"The only really successful way to shut down leaks is a sense of real loyalty — loyalty to the team, meaning other members of the White House staff as well as to the president," Pfiffner advised. "And there doesn't seem to be that sense of loyalty."
The "vicious" environment within the White House means people have to "think twice" about taking a position in the White House, or even in the cabinet, he added.
In only six months, Trump has already demonstrated that he can be unpredictable, spontaneous and he has fulfilled his promise to turn the Washington establishment on its head. He fired the FBI director, canceled a military personnel policy over Twitter; he is reportedly sidelining his own national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster on issues as important as North Korea.; and much of the traditional work of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now being managed by his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
After closely studying Trump's life and work, Blair warned that within the within the broader competition in the White House, anyone who can be fire could be the next to go.
"Watch out. That's the message of all the disruption the chaos in the West Wing," she advised. "Tillerson, McMaster, not to mention Sessions, watch out."