The Slatest

Trump Loves Surrounding Himself With Generals and Not Listening to Them

Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly speaks about immigration enforcement legislation during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 29.

AFP/Getty Images

In the latest Friday afternoon Twitter dump, President Trump announced he is replacing White House chief of staff and Anthony Scaramucci playground abuse recipient Reince Priebus with retired general and current Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly. It hasn’t yet been reported who will be nominated for Kelly’s job.

There was some indication this was coming, though it got a bit lost in the tumult of the last few days. The New York Times reported on Thursday:

Mr. Trump has openly told people that he has lost faith in Mr. Priebus. He has said he wants “a general” as chief of staff, and has focused on John F. Kelly, the retired four-star Marine now serving as homeland security secretary. Many of his advisers, however, consider that a bad idea.

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Trump has a thing for generals. He routinely refers to them as “my generals” and brags about them looking like they’re from “central casting.” Kelly was the third general the president named to a senior position after Secretary of Defense James Mattis—who had served so recently that he required a special waiver from Congress in order to take the job—and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who Trump reportedly asked to wear his uniform to work despite the fact Flynn had retired from the service. (The retired Kelly also does not wear his uniform to the workplace.) When Flynn was forced to resign over contacts with Russia, Trump replaced him with another general, H.R. McMaster, who has the advantage of still being in the military, meaning he can wear his uniform around the office.

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Military affairs is the one realm in which Trump is occasionally willing to admit some level of ignorance. He has openly said the generals should go about their business without consulting him, since they know more than he does. (Perhaps this is atonement for his claim on the campaign trail to “know more about ISIS than the generals do.”)

Given the president’s love of men in uniform, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see another general take over the Homeland Security post that Kelly has now vacated, or even take the top spot at the State Department considering how things are looking with Rex Tillerson.

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Despite Trump’s professions of love and admiration for his generals and his claim that he’s giving the military “total authorization,” the president doesn’t always seem to care about what they have to say. He ignored Mattis’ plan for fighting ISIS for months. He’s widely known to be frustrated with McMaster, particularly the national security adviser’s desire to commit more troops to Afghanistan. And despite his claim that he’d decided to ban transgender people from the military after consultation with “my generals,” the Pentagon had no idea the announcement was coming. Mattis was apparently only informed the day before and was on vacation. Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph Dunford says he’s not going to implement the ban until he receives an official order.

Before Kelly moves into his new role, then, particularly given that his new brief will involve more than just national security issues, he should keep in mind that Trump is often less interested in heeding his generals’ wisdom than he is in using them as props.

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