In comments to reporters at the White House on Friday, Donald J. Trump stirred controversy by lavishing an alleged wife beater with praise that he historically has reserved for child molesters and Nazis.
Reporters who heard the President’s comments were taken aback since, in the past, the President had given no indication that he held wife beaters in the same high esteem in which he holds supporters of child abuse and white supremacy.
“We knew that President Trump considered child molesters and Nazis very fine people, but this was the first time he had put wife beaters up there, too,”
.. “Donald Trump has made it very clear that he can be the champion of wife beaters, child molesters, and Nazis at the same time,” Kelly said. “He doesn’t play favorites.”
Trump’s first definition, in the person of Reince Priebus, was as an executive who preferred to surround himself with toadies constitutionally incapable of standing up to him and prepared to pay the price of slathering him with praise. The most vivid illustration came during Trump’s first full Cabinet meeting, in June, when Priebus gushed, “We thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you’ve given us to serve your agenda and the American people.”
Just as Priebus revealed Trump’s insatiable desire for stroking, Kelly illustrated his unsettling attraction to strongmen.
.. The problem, as it turned out, was that Kelly not only reinforced some of Trump’s worst instincts — he displayed them himself. Where Trump resisted condemning white separatists protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville last summer, Kelly followed a few months later with a paean to Lee as “an honorable man” and asserting that “the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War.”
.. Kelly seems to share Trump’s inclination to escalate and allergy to apology. After Kelly attacked Florida Democrat Rep. Frederica S. Wilson as an “empty barrel” and a video showed that he had misrepresented her comments, Kelly vowed he would “never” apologize... He cared more about keeping one of the few capable people inside the West Wing at his side than about having an accused abuser on the staff... When the Porter story broke, Kelly’s response was classic, Trumpian bravado: to urge Porter to fight on and issue a statement praising him as “a man of true integrity and honor.”
Kelly told staff Friday to say he had decided to fire Porter within 40 minutes of learning allegations Porter abused two ex-wives were credible. Some staffers who were at the meeting left feeling that Kelly had effectively asked them to lie on his behalf.
.. It is extremely difficult to square that statement with everything we know. Kelly issued an initial statement Tuesday featuring effusive praise for Porter
.. More important, though, that this leaked out so quickly suggests Kelly has lost the confidence of his staff.
.. White House aides probably could have tried to sell the version of events Kelly told them to — it hinges upon how you define “credible,” after all, and is refuted only by anonymously sourced reporting at this point — but they are apparently unwilling to front for him and make themselves vulnerable professionally.
.. Kelly’s luster has slowly eroded during his roughly six months as Trump’s top staffer — and some White House aides worry it may be acutely painful, considering he takes personal pride in his honor as a lifelong public servant. . . .
The perception of Kelly as above politics has been critical to his success in the West Wing. Publicly, he has come to Trump’s aid at moments of crisis, while privately he has been used to kill damaging news stories, or put a positive spin on them.
But the irony for Kelly may be that the credibility that makes him a singular asset in this White House may have been irreparably damaged by his work in it... It harks to an episode in the summer in which White House staff leaked word Trump had personally involved himself in the misleading explanations of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer. In both cases, the aides seemed to be worried such misleading actions could do irreparable damage — for Trump with the Russia investigation and for Kelly with his and the White House’s credibility... In both cases, they apparently felt their only recourse was to put out word that the most powerful men in the White House were trying to mislead the American people.
But the Democrats, with their childish protests, took the bait. Symbolic dissent is fine, but this was a cacophony of causes: black clothing (for #MeToo), kente ties and sashes (because of Trump’s Africa insult), butterfly stickers (for the “dreamers”), red buttons (for a victim of racial crime) and the more bipartisan purple ribbons (for the opioid epidemic).