White House chief of staff John Kelly’s imminent departure comes at a turbulent time for Donald Trump, prompting the US president to hastily shuffle the cabinet in the face of upcoming clashes with Democrats.
Kelly was brought in 18 months ago to restore discipline to a chaotic White House. He was to some extent successful in reining uncontrollable personnel or returning order to the White House but the retired four-star general was fed up with an unmanageable president with whom he has reportedly been on non-speaking terms for some time.
Kelly, for instance, downgraded Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner’s clearance and restricted the access of First Family members to the Oval Office.
With Kelly determined to leave his job by the end of this year, Trump is fishing for another formidable chief that could simultaneously tame the rogue staff and help him in pushing back the Democratic-led House of Representatives, due to convene early January.
Nick Ayers, Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff is the likely replacement to Kelly. While Trump prefers a loyal chief of staff, his fellow Republicans fear that he may recruit a minion that, unlike Kelly, avoids telling the president the real and hard truth, drawing the administration and country into uncharted waters.
Republican senator Bob Corker last year opined that then-secretary of state Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and John Kelly "help separate our country from chaos." Now, Mattis is the last survivor from a small group that Corker hoped would resist Trump’s inclinations.
High-level departures are a hallmark of the Trump presidency, totaling 28 in less than two years. Even the fate of Mattis hangs in the balance. Other high-profile cabinet members, including Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Homeland Security Secretary Kristjen Nielsen are rumored to be on the brink of ouster.
After Republicans lost the House to Democrats in the November midterm polls, Trump, with an eye on the 2020 presidential elections, is purging the so-called moderates who moderated his policies on Syria, Iran, China, etc.
The next two years will see hard battles between Trump and Democrats on domestic issues. The Mueller probe, strongly backed by Democrats, would further consume and erode his presidency.
But he is expected to deflect the criticisms and pressures by concentrating on the economy (especially the trade war with China) and foreign policy in order to pocket desperately-needed gains outside the US to campaign on in the next election.
*Hormoz Baradaran is an Iranian journalist.