General John Kelly finally reached his first anniversary as chief of staff in President Donald Trump’s White House over the weekend, defying rumors of an early exit.
But he did not mark the occasion by traveling with the president on Friday to his club in Bedminster, New Jersey.
A year earlier, Kelly began his tenure during a period of high drama after the president fired his then chief of staff Reince Priebus and replaced him with the general.
That drama continues, and although Kelly has now remained in his position twice as long as Priebus, the rumors of a possible exit never went away. First, reports speculated when Kelly would resign in protest of Trump’s freewheeling style. Now many of Trump’s allies outside the White House wonder if Kelly will ever leave.
“I don’t think that the president is going to get rid of him,” a former administration official said to Breitbart News. The official said Kelly would likely have to make his own ultimate decision about leaving the White House.
Reports of preferred candidates to replace Kelly surfaced in late June, citing Vice President Mike Pence’s chief of staff Nick Ayers or Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, but Kelly remains.
When reporters asked the president in June if the reports were true, Trump replied, “That I don’t know. I like John a lot. I like him and I respect him.”
Some speculate that Kelly might even remain until after the midterm elections.
The White House did not respond to multiple requests from Breitbart News to speak to Kelly about his experience and staff would not comment on the record about his service.
Kelly’s frustrations with the media are legendary as he struggles with the oscillating characterization of his role.
“This is — it’s personal, it’s vicious,” Kelly said in a May interview with National Public Radio, acknowledging that he “was not ready for the press that covers a White House.”
Kelly’s media interviews are more limited, especially after his comments have triggered negative attention on cable news.
After calling his White House job the hardest he ever had, he deadpanned in March that, “God punished me, I guess.”
Once hailed as a savior of the establishment, the media soon turned on Kelly when it was clear he could not control Trump.
Kelly initially attempted to control the media narrative with various off-the-record meetings with White House reporters, but details of his comments still found their way into the headlines.
In July, Trump brought former Fox News executive Bill Shine into the White House as deputy chief of staff for communications to help strengthen the bulwarks of media defense.
Kelly frustrated many of Trump’s loyal contacts, complaining about the new order set by the new chief of staff that froze them out of the president’s daily routine. Many of them were vocally critical of Kelly in the press, complaining that he was not a good fit.
Former administration officials, however, admit that Kelly brought some much-needed order to the West Wing.
“General Kelly brought structure and a systematic approach to running the White House that was welcome,” Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a former Deputy Assistant to the President, said in an interview with Breitbart News.
Another former administration official said it was dishonest for anyone to suggest that Kelly did not bring stability to the administration.
But while Trump’s first Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was described as limiting his fights to things he could control, Trump’s allies fault Kelly for trying to control too much.
“While he has succeeded in bringing some order to the White House he has fallen into the trap of mistaking his role as chief of staff and trying to become something closer to Trump’s nanny,” said a source close to the White House.
Friends who try to sneak in a conversation with the president to discuss White House operations are sometimes surprised by Kelly’s sudden arrival to interrupt or listen in.
One source close to the president’s family told Breitbart News that Kelly was ill-suited for playing the political game in Washington.
“He’s not a bad guy, he just has bad political instincts,” the source said. “He has no understanding of how the levers of power operate.”
Many political allies of the president outside the White House remain vexed that Kelly will not let them in to help him win important political fights.
Kelly struggled for days to control the fallout from White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter’s ugly exit in February after his ex-wives accused him of abuse.
The chief of staff could not control the story, and his staff had no qualms about leaking details to the press for over a week about his failures.
“That was Kelly’s Waterloo,” a source close to the White House said about the Porter fiasco, pointing out that the General “lost control of the troops” in the White House as a result of the scandal.
White House staff increasingly look to Trump to solve his own moments of political crisis, although they are ready to assist with the details.
The president is filling the gaps of political leadership himself, more confident with his experience as president.
“I’m not like other politicians. I’ve never been a politician before,” Trump said to a group of steelworkers on Thursday. “I only started 2 1/2 years and I became president. How am I doing? Okay?”
The crowd cheered with approval.