The right choice for many reasons
John Kelly will bring balance and steadiness to the White House
Americans like their president to be an earthy fighter; they also like predictability and dignity. Finding the balance can be difficult. A divided White House does not help. That is why appointing Gen. John Kelly White House Chief of Staff is so welcome. First, no American general alive today has given more to the nation through an extended military career, effective leadership in multiple areas of responsibility, in combat and peacetime, wrestling state and non-state terrorists, bombastic belligerents to drug traffickers. And with a son at Arlington Cemetery, Mr. Kelly’s family is all about America.
Every single military and civilian staff member in the White House knows his story — and should respect him. Whatever his leadership style, policy positions, or organizational priorities, he will be fiercely loyal, fair to a fault and effective. In all likelihood, White House leaks will stop, investigations notwithstanding. Unity will finally emerge.
If past is prelude, Mr. Kelly’s military and Homeland Security leadership demonstrates he is honest, humble, knows his mind, assigns missions assiduously, empowers people, expects execution, will not micromanage, expects trust to be honored, takes responsibility and will not suffer fools.
Second, the president respects and admires Mr. Kelly, suggesting potentially significant operational change. As divisions among White House staff settle — and they will — his guidance may trigger wider moves.
Among operational shifts, expect greater order in all elements of White House management, closer attention to Congress and Cabinet affairs, better integration of domestic and international strategies, gradual elevation of Cabinet authority, and acceleration of appointments across government.
Since Cabinet members respect Mr. Kelly, and he was drawn from their ranks, he is likely to be a strong, proactive intermediary. He is unlikely to get spun up. He will hear all voices, but give no quarter to internecine battles.
Mr. Kelly’s recommendations come from a deep well, a place few have been, places few would want to go. Accordingly, they carry great weight. Not a seer, he is seasoned beyond any recent chief of staff. He comes with little ego, another gift.
Finally, Mr. Kelly may be able to help President Trump restore balance between “earthy fighter” and reassuring “predictability and dignity.” That balance is innate in high-ranking combat officers.
Mr. Trump’s habit of reflexive tweeting is not the core problem. The problem is how the president uses this technology. A president should be using cutting-edge technology to communicate with the American people.
In May 1862, President Lincoln discovered value in the telegraph — already around 17 years, five more than Twitter today. Lincoln converted that novelty to a communications sword, turning the “telegraph room” into a “situation room.”
In December 1923, Calvin Coolidge was the first president to use radio. Franklin Roosevelt perfected political radio with “fireside chats,” pioneering television in 1939.
Harry Truman gave the first televised speech in 1947, but Ronald Reagan was the master, cheerfully using radio and television to go over national media and win voters to his side, presaging Mr. Trump’s pioneering use of Twitter.
Mr. Kelly may, with luck, help the president to perfect how he tweets. Currently, the needle is hard to “earthy fighter,” and hard away from “predictability and dignity.” For a time, in reaction to stark events, that is fine. But over time, the nation craves — and Mr. Reagan gave them — both “predictability and dignity,” the sense of a “steady hand is on the wheel.”
If anyone can help Mr. Trump convey that message effectively, building on his can-do attitude, the vice president’s well-received demeanor and Cabinet acumen, it is Mr. Kelly.
The way to get there is not hard, no harder than distinguishing between personal and professional, private and public, unofficial and official comment, keeping authenticity while getting the tweet-meter closer to the middle, rather than hard-over to “earthy fighter,” a bit more “predictability and dignity.”
Truth is that Lincoln, and all presidents since exploited new technology. Mr. Trump is ahead of his time, not behind it. Mr. Kelly may be able — with his unique life experience — to help the president harness this technology for better battlefield advantage, using better targeting, inspired messaging, building confidence and predictability through tweets.
One way or the other, Mr. Kelly is a brilliant choice for White House chief of staff. If America was looking for the next chapter, someone who can set the right tone, find the right balance, end a flood of leaks, and unify the Trump White House staff, hard to see a better choice.