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Politics & Policy

Arrivederci, Scaramucci

From the Tuesday edition of the Morning Jolt:

Arrivederci, Scaramucci

Removing Anthony Scaramucci from the White House staff was like ripping off a Band-Aid. You can do it fast, or you can do it slowly, but it is going to hurt either way. Many will conclude that because the pain is the same, it’s better to get it done quickly.

Scaramucci was just about the last person any president or administration would want in a role like White House communications director. Recall that what started much of this brouhaha was Ryan Lizza’s report that Scaramucci had dined in the White House with the president, First Lady, Sean Hannity, and the former Fox News executive Bill Shine.

Interesting, but hardly a state secret. But as Jonah noted, Scaramucci treated it like a leak of the nuclear launch codes. “You’re an American citizen,” he told Lizza. “This is a major catastrophe for the American country. So, I’m asking you as an American patriot to give me a sense of who leaked it.” I can hear the scoffing about the futility of appealing to the patriotism of a journalist, but the relevant question here is what is at stake. There are plenty of reporters who will withhold particular information if the government makes a compelling case that publishing it will put lives at risk. Reporters who cover the intelligence agencies withhold information fairly regularly. But it’s just about impossible to argue that the leaking of the Trump-Scaramucci-Hannity dinner represented a threat to American national security. That sort of leak is an annoyance to the White House, not a reason to move to DEFCON 1.

When Lizza wouldn’t name his source, that’s when Scaramucci launched his obscene tirade against the rest of the White House staff, either not remembering that he was still speaking on the record to a reporter for The New Yorker or not caring.

Anyone whose judgment is that spectacularly bad from the get-go is unlikely to climb the learning curve fast enough to meet the administration’s needs. On Friday, I noted that the  Scaramucci’s defenders argued that he was performing for an audience of one, the president. But the problem with that approach is that everyone else can see that performance, and many others were appalled — including, it seems, new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

If you feel like one of the biggest threats to this administration is the president’s own impulsive decision-making, and failure to recognize the long-term consequences of his actions — like, say, firing the FBI director, or trashing his own cabinet members in public — anecdotes like this one are reassuring:

Raised voices could be heard through the thick door to the Oval Office as John Kelly — then secretary of Homeland Security — offered some tough talk to President Donald Trump.

Kelly, a whip-cracking retired general who was sworn in as White House chief of staff on Monday, had demanded to speak to the president alone after Trump complained loudly that the U.S. was admitting travelers from countries he viewed as high risk.

Kelly first tried to explain to Trump that the admissions were standard — some people had legitimate reasons to visit the country — but the president insisted that it was making him look bad, according to an administration official familiar with the exchange about a month ago.

Kelly then demanded that other advisers leave the room so he could speak to the president frankly. Trump refused at first, but agreed when Kelly insisted.

It was an early indication that Kelly, a decorated retired Marine general who served three tours in Iraq, is not afraid to stand up to his commander-in-chief.

You know what’s really great about that anecdote? That Kelly didn’t want anyone else seeing him disagreeing so strongly with the president. Judging from this, when Kelly thinks the president is making a mistake, he’s going to make his views exceptionally clear, but not in a way that undermines the president or implies insufficient respect for the office. Considering how temperamental Trump can be, and the fact that this blunt exchange didn’t lead to Kelly’s dismissal, we should also recognize that perhaps the president is more willing to listen to strong disagreement than his reputation suggests.