Six months into his presidency, Donald Trump is saddled with a stalled agenda, a West Wing that resembles a viper’s nest, a pile of investigations and a Republican Party that’s starting to break away.
Trump on Friday indirectly acknowledged the troubled state of his unconventional White House when he abruptly replaced his chief of staff with hard-nosed retired Gen. John Kelly, until now the Homeland Security secretary.
Kelly will take the desk of Reince Priebus, a Republican operative who was skeptical of Trump’s electoral prospects last year and ultimately came to be viewed by the president as weak and ineffective.
Kelly’s ability to succeed will depend on factors outside his control, including whether Trump’s squabbling staff is willing to put aside the rivalries that have sowed disorder and complicated efforts to enact policy.
But the big question is can Kelly do what Priebus couldn’t? And that’s curbing the president’s penchant for drama and unpredictability, and his tendency to focus more on settling scores than promoting a policy agenda.
No other aide or adviser has been successful on that front.
As a candidate, and now as president, Trump has cycled through campaign chiefs and advisers but has remained easily distracted by his personal interests and only loosely tethered to any policy plans.
“Trump has spent a lot of his political capital on nothing but defending his own reputation,” Alex Conant, a Republican strategist, said of Trump’s first six months in office. “There is no sustained strategy. His attention seems to shift with whatever is leading cable news at that moment.”
Staff shake-ups are a tried-and-true way for struggling presidents to signal that they are ready to shift course.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton elevated budget director Leon Panetta to chief of staff with a mandate to bring more discipline to a loosely organized White House. President George W. Bush made the same move with Josh Bolten in 2006 as the Bush presidency…