Trump backers turn on Kelly

Several longtime supporters of President Trump are sniping at chief of staff John KellyJohn Francis KellyMORE in an attempt to diminish the standing of a man who has quickly become one of the president's closest advisers. 

Kelly has won plaudits from many in Washington for imposing order and structure on a West Wing that had been characterized by chaos and dysfunction.

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But that has triggered a backlash from some Trump backers, who call him names like "Nanny Kelly" or "Mrs. Doubtfire" and accuse him of trying to control a president who doesn’t like to be managed.

The chief of staff’s backers largely dismiss the name-calling as sour grapes from people in Trump’s orbit who feel Kelly has cut down on their access to the president. Regardless, they say Kelly threatens the agenda Trump ran on.

Kelly’s critics say he doesn't share Trump's worldview, and his policy and personnel decisions are alienating the president from the base that elected him in November.

“He seems to think he is a political Svengali. He’s there to bring structure and make it an adult White House,” said Sam Nunberg, a former Trump campaign official who called the retired Marine Corps general “nanny.” “Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden slams Trump over golf gif hitting Clinton Trump Jr. declines further Secret Service protection: report Report: Mueller warned Manafort to expect an indictment MORE wasn’t necessarily elected to have Pentagon folks running the West Wing along with Democrats.”

The criticism comes after the departure of two ardent yet divisive Trump loyalists from the White House: chief strategist Stephen Bannon and national security aide Sebastian Gorka. Kelly is said to have engineered both ousters.

Trump’s former bodyguard and close confidant, Keith Schiller, is also expected to leave the White House soon. While Schiller reportedly planned to leave Trump’s staff for the private sector, Kelly’s opponents blame him for accelerating the move. The White House denies Kelly had involvement in Schiller’s impending exit.

Roger Stone, a Republican provocateur and on-again, off-again Trump adviser, told InfoWars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones this week that Schiller’s exit is an “extremely ominous” sign that Kelly is trying to cut off Trump from information Kelly doesn’t want Trump to see.

Some on the right also take issue with Kelly for shielding aides like National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, who have been dubbed “globalists” by Trump’s nationalist supporters.

The critics so far make up only a vocal minority of Trump's backers; many more say Kelly’s efforts to overhaul the White House staff and decisionmaking process are absolutely necessary to advance the president’s agenda.

But their efforts risk dragging Kelly into the same factional infighting that plagued his predecessor, Reince Priebus.

Unlike Priebus, Kelly has won the president’s respect and garnered praise from many corners of Trump World, as well as from officials on both sides of the aisle.

The chief of staff has worked to crack down on leaks, especially regarding stories about staff infighting, while working behind the scenes to improve the White House’s poor relationship with the news media.

Kelly has largely stopped people from wandering into the Oval Office to hand the president unverified information while also giving Trump’s schedule more structure — changes Trump privately says have given him time to think. 

The former Homeland Security secretary has also received credit for the White House’s response to two recent hurricanes, as well as its push for a tax overhaul, which supporters say is much better organized than Trump’s ill-fated effort to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Through it all, the decorated Marine Corps veteran has mostly managed to fly above the internal dramas that have consumed the White House ever since Trump’s inauguration.

"There was no team. Now there is a team,” said Barry Bennett, who served as a top adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign.

But some supporters have seized upon signs that Trump has chafed at Kelly’s efforts.

The New York Times recently reported that Trump lashed out at his new top adviser after a raucous rally in Arizona. Kelly reportedly said afterward that he would not tolerate such treatment by Trump again.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said “that’s not what took place,” adding that Kelly has the full backing of the president.

“His message has been very much the same every single time, and that is, ‘I really like him. I think he’s doing a great job,’ ” Sanders told The Hill. “I’ve literally never heard him say a negative thing about the guy.”

Sanders said Kelly “has no intention or desire to manage the president” and that his sole duty is to manage the staff, a job she said he is doing “very well.”

She also denied that Kelly is freezing out longtime Trump friends and supporters, saying, “Anybody to my knowledge who has wanted to see the president has been able to.”

Yet one GOP operative with close ties to the White House said Kelly is still struggling to solidify his standing with Trump.

“The biggest mistake John Kelly ever made was not coming out with an on-the-record condemnation the first time a story came out about him trying to control the president and blocking his friends from seeing him,” said the operative, who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

By not quickly disavowing those stories, Kelly “showed a lack of understanding about how things work in Trump’s orbit,” according to the operative.

After his hiring in late July, many in Trump World feared Kelly would encounter stiff resistance from those who benefited from the freewheeling atmosphere overseen by his predecessor and are not surprised the tighter controls have angered those who feel frozen out.

“He should’ve stamped that talk out immediately, so now what do we have?” said the operative. “People calling him Gen. Doubtfire. It’s gotten out of his hands, and once it’s out there, he’s treading on dangerous water now. I don’t know if the shark will bite him tomorrow, next week or next month, but it’s going to bite.”

Nunberg, who was fired from the Trump campaign over racially charged Facebook posts, said the chief of staff should tread carefully because of the president’s penchant to turn on staff.

“Kelly will be the favorite son. He is the shiny toy, but that doesn’t last forever,” he said.

For the time being, Kelly isn’t going anywhere. And some who have run afoul of him, including Gorka, have taken pains not to criticize him in public.

“This isn’t about John Kelly,” Gorka said when asked by the Los Angeles Times why he left. “John Kelly is a military professional. He’s a four-star legend in the Marine Corps.

“He’s imposed a military professionalism onto the processes inside the building, the management of information, the management of time. That is what you’d expect from a military professional.”

Many West Wing staffers and their outside allies say critics of Kelly should put aside their personal feelings and get behind his efforts, arguing they’re needed for an administration that has yet to score a major legislative achievement.

“I would say this to my colleagues who are sniping at Gen. Kelly: President Trump is the leader of the free world. I want his time maximized on that instead of calling for half an hour to get the latest gossip,” said Bryan Lanza, a former Trump transition team official.

Jonathan Easley and Niall Stanage contributed.