Despite fears he is being too tightly controlled, President Donald Trump seems to be responding well to the format of new Chief of Staff John Kelly.
Kelly, a retired Marine general, was Trump’s first Homeland Security secretary, but after a dizzying first several months, Trump began asking Kelly in May if he wanted to switch roles. In late July, Kelly did.
Today, Kelly is having success — and a top adviser within the Trump administration told LifeZette the White House staff is much more positive and focused, and there are more changes to come.
“I am absolutely certain that installing General Kelly as chief of staff has paid dividends for the Trump White House,” said Matt Mackowiak, a GOP consultant and the chairman of the Travis County Republican Party in Texas. “His discipline and focus have been helpful, and the team has raised its game and is working far more cohesively than before.”
Trump’s previous chief of staff, Reince Priebus of Wisconsin, ran the Republican National Committee for several years, but was most adept at raising money and messaging.
Priebus reportedly ran meetings the way Trump ran business meetings, without adapting to the new need for tighter schedules and the right kind of input. Perhaps worst of all, many of the meetings featured people who were not expert in the topics being discussed.
Kelly, the former head of the U.S. Southern Command, has tightened meetings and cut off access to such Trump loyalists as Omarosa Manigault Newman, who reportedly often walked into meetings and even the Oval Office without notifying top staff.
Kelly pushed some Trump loyalists out, including the opinionated Anthony Scaramucci, the short-lived communications director. Kelly also gently nudged Steve Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, who wanted to leave around the one-year anniversary of coming on board the Trump presidential campaign. Recent reports also indicate even Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, has to check in with Kelly to discuss policy with the president.
Kelly is not seen as targeting Trump loyalists. Instead, he is managing roles. And no detail seems to escape Kelly, who is reportedly doing perimeter walks on the White House grounds to check on security. Reporters have noticed the little things, too, such as quick responses to inquiries.
“Once a Marine, always a Marine,” said Andrew Malcolm, a Trump critic and a conservative columnist for McClatchy newspapers, in an email to LifeZette. “There has been positive change. Not enough discipline, but definitely more. The kinds of changes often invisible to most, but like more responsive media [operations], much better for the larger cause.”
Jeffrey Lord, the former CNN contributor now at Breitbart, told LifeZette in an email that Kelly is working well.
“Clearly, Kelly has made a difference and this White House has itself together,” Lord said. “The policy then takes center stage, and as with other administrations, that’s where the real battles occur.”
Kelly has focused his big battles on policy. Since taking office about August 1, Kelly has slowly tried to get Trump to adjust to his methods, on policy and on messaging. It has not worked perfectly, especially in the earlier weeks. Trump chafed at being too tightly managed, and decided to give an impromptu news conference after the deadly violence on August 12 in Charlottesville, Virginia.
But observers believe Kelly remained committed to getting the White House on track, and is producing on policy and efficiency. The White House dispensed with a lengthy debate on the debt ceiling, and cut a quick deal with the Democrats.
“The administration has … sharpened its message since General Kelly replaced Steve Bannon,” said Robert Kaufman, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University. “Even on health care, the greatest collective failure for the Republicans thus far, the White House did better … Substantively, the Trump White House is doing better in general, thanks to some additions, subtractions, and President Trump himself having a learning curve.”
Lord told LifeZette that the first year of a new administration is almost always made to look bad by the press. The process usually means a person like Kelly jumps in to help.
“Earlier this year, I made a point of looking up ‘White House in chaos,’ and putting in front of the phrase the name [individually] of every president from Obama back to Reagan,” said Lord. “Sure enough, there was always a story like this. The reason is clear: It takes a while for a new president to settle in and learn what it’s like to be president.”
Trump is learning faster under Kelly, pundits said. But from time to time, Trump is alone with his cellphone or veers off script during public engagements, and that is perhaps the biggest headache for his top staffers. Trump lashed out at the NFL all weekend for tolerating players who kneel during the national anthem. But the type of tweets have noticeably been easier fights for Trump to win, and they have not been personal attacks on media types such as MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski.
“Contrary to the conventional wisdom, I predict Trump’s fight with professional athletes will be a net benefit, if he wages his battle strategically rather than impetuously,” said Kaufman.
With Kelly as chief of staff, a strategy is likely.