John Kelly
Credit: Jim Greenhill/Flickr

How is this for a profile in political leadership from John Kelly, the White House chief of staff?

…Kelly’s status in the White House has changed in recent months, and he and the president are now seen as barely tolerating one another. According to four people close to Kelly, the former Marine general has largely yielded his role as the enforcer in the West Wing as his relationship with Trump has soured. While Kelly himself once believed he stood between Trump and chaos, he has told at least one person close to him that he may as well let the president do what he wants, even if it leads to impeachment — at least this chapter of American history would come to a close.

What kind of person continues with his or her job beyond the point at which they’ve given up on being effective or preventing an historic disaster? Who doesn’t seek to exfiltrate themselves from a situation in which high crimes and misdemeanors are being committed in their field of responsibility? How do we view a chief of staff who gives up on leading either his boss or his staff and then just sits there occupying space, making apologies out of one side of his mouth and leaking excuses out of the other?

And this is too generous to Kelly, because he’s been a hardliner on immigration and discouraged the president from making any kind of deal with Congress. If the administration is now committing a crime against humanity at the border, Kelly owns every part of that policy, and all the more every day that he remains in his position. He just sits there like a bump on a log while the president praises the character of Kim Jong-un, says Russia properly owns Crimea, and lobbies to have sanctions lifted against Russia and the country returned to the G7.

Now he sounds like he’s eager for his whole administration to be frogmarched out of the West Wing because it will end the nightmare we’re all living through. Does he think he’ll escape the Tuff-tie hand restraints?

I don’t know how to define this behavior because cowardice doesn’t seem to quite cover it.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at