New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is not only trying to dampen the trademark chaos within the White House, but is also attempting to restrict the flow of ideas to the president and, when and where he can, moderate some of Trump’s more destructive Twitter impulses. On Sunday, Bloomberg reported that, though the president has apparently reserved his right to ignore Kelly’s Twitter guidance, the new chief of staff has been mostly successful at calming Trump’s tweets down for the time being. According to three Bloomberg sources, Kelly has even temporarily convinced President Trump to consult him before tweeting about specific subjects which could lead to administration-wide headaches.
Kelly is additionally working to restrict access to the president — eliminating casual walk-ins to the Oval Office, for instance — and trying to limit or at least filter what information makes it to Trump, assigning White House staff secretary Rob Porter to be the point man on that task. In a meeting with some 200 White House staffers on Friday, Kelly reportedly told the assembled that he expected them to put country first, the president second, and themselves and their priorities last.
Of course, unless you took away Trump’s digital devices, friends, and television time, no one will ever be able to prevent the president from getting his own bad information, which he seems to regularly receive from Twitter and from cable-news shows. Kelly’s efforts, which also include restricting who is able to brief the president, may reduce at least some of the fuel for Trump’s impulsive fires. This is obviously not the first time that somebody has tried to limit Trump’s unforced errors on Twitter, but any progress would probably come as a welcome change within the White House, considering the serial damage that Trump has done to his administration with his @-bully-pulpit.
Indeed, a Politico report on Friday indicated that Trump’s tendency to rule by random tweet is probably even worse than most had realized.
We already knew that Trump’s July 26 tweet announcing a full ban of transgender servicemembers came as a total surprise to both the Department of Defense and the rest of the White House. But Politico reports that Trump actually sent the tweet because he was tired of being told that he couldn’t order the ban. Trump thus deliberately ignored the advice of White House and DOD lawyers, disregarded the potential legal ramifications and backlash his advisers had warned him about, and blindsided basically everyone in the federal government — just because he wanted to end a tiresome debate and get his way.
Trump then reportedly told his administration that they would have to “get in gear” and come up with a plan now that he had publicly ordered the policy change. However, the Defense Department later said that they would not, in fact, be implementing the ban until they received official guidance from the White House, and it seems that still hasn’t happened.
The exact same thing apparently happened on June 7 when Trump nominated Christopher Wray to replace fired FBI director James Comey. Politico reports that Trump’s advisers believed the president would be picking John Pistole for the job, but after a conversation with New Jersey governor Chris Christie, Trump had suddenly decided to pick Wray. Trump’s advisers hadn’t considered or recommended Wray at that point, and the White House only found about the pick when Trump tweeted it out that morning. According to Politico’s sources, Trump was just tired of the search and so he ended it with a sudden choice that no one saw coming.
Another of the many bizarre tweets the president has sent was when he wrote on June 20 that, “While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!” Politico reports that U.S. officials were meeting with Chinese diplomats when Trump hit send, and for hours no one had any idea what he was even talking about. Only later did they learn that Trump, rather than having made some kind of random foreign policy announcement, was just letting off some steam after becoming upset over the death of Otto Warmbier, an American student who was critically injured while being held by the North Korean government.
Politico adds that, according to a White House official, even if Kelly can’t prevent Trump’s tweets, he is trying to to “push” them “in the right direction” by limiting who is able to encourage Trump to tweet things out in the first place. To that end, the tall order that the former four-star Marine general has given himself is to try to be aware of what Trump is planning to tweet beforehand, and to “put together a system in which top aides don’t learn of decisions on Twitter, one where policy and personnel decisions are not first tweeted without having procedures in place to make them happen.”
Best of luck.