Trump Melania Jared Kushner Ivanka
Credit: The White House/Flickr

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is finally making his long rumored exit from the White House at the end of this month:

President Trump said on Saturday that his chief of staff, John F. Kelly, would step down by the end of the year, the latest move in a long-planned staff shake-up as the president heads into the 2020 campaign facing growing peril from the special counsel and newly empowered Democrats.

Kelly deserves not even the faintest praise for staying on as long as he did. While much of Washington saw Kelly as the “adult in the room” keeping Trump from obeying his worst impulses, the reality is that Kelly aided and abetted Trump’s misdeeds and shared most of his insalubrious convictions. Kelly’s greatest accomplishment, if you can call it that, was preventing Trump from hurtling much more rapidly into political self-destruction than he otherwise would have, and there is no evidence so far that Kelly actually did the country or the world a service by doing so.

The person most likely to replace Kelly as the White House enters the most tempestuous presidential year since Watergate is a 36-year-old rapacious consultant named Nick Ayers, who is currently serving as Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff.

Ayers is known for having positioned himself as fiercely loyal to Trump and aggressive against his critics. But he is also known as being very friendly with Ivanka and Jared Kushner. The Trump children have been eagerly trying to push out Kelly and finally got their wish.

But with Kelly and his loyalists as good as gone, Trump’s circle of friends grows smaller and more scandalous. For all Kelly’s flaws, he was free of personal scandal. Kushner is anything but. In fact, just today Jared was embroiled in a scandal that all by itself almost might have sunk any other presidency:

But even with the restrictions in place, Mr. Kushner, 37, and Prince Mohammed, 33, kept chatting, according to three former White House officials and two others briefed by the Saudi royal court. In fact, they said, the two men were on a first-name basis, calling each other Jared and Mohammed in text messages and phone calls.

The exchanges continued even after the Oct. 2 killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the Saudi journalist who was ambushed and dismembered by Saudi agents, according to two former senior American officials and the two people briefed by the Saudis.

As the killing set off a firestorm around the world and American intelligence agencies concluded that it was ordered by Prince Mohammed, Mr. Kushner became the prince’s most important defender inside the White House, people familiar with its internal deliberations say….

But American officials and a Saudi briefed on their conversations said that Mr. Kushner and Prince Mohammed have continued to chat informally. According to the Saudi, Mr. Kushner has offered the crown prince advice about how to weather the storm, urging him to resolve his conflicts around the region and avoid further embarrassments.

Kushner is drowning in the deep end of a pool while thinking he’s Michael Phelps, and Trump is ready to give him a gold medal for flailing.

What it functionally means is that Trump’s inner circle is shrinking to encompass only his immediate family and various either incompetent or inexperienced lickspittles who are themselves shrouded in scandal and corruption.

It’s possible that Trump survives all this. But things happen slowly and then all at once, and eventually political gravity will make itself felt one way or another.

David Atkins

Follow David on Twitter @DavidOAtkins. David Atkins is a writer, activist and research professional living in Santa Barbara. He is a contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal and president of The Pollux Group, a qualitative research firm.