Echoes Of Watergate: John Kelly Is New Alexander Haig Soldier-Statesman Come To Save The Day

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr john kelly...
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr
Oliver Wendell Holmes said that, “a page of history is worth a volume of logic.” Watergate comparisons are nothing new in the Trump administration and now the drama has crescendoed to where the soldier-statesman is called upon to hold a shattered White House intact in the wake of the resignation of the controversial Chief of Staff; although Reince Priebus bears no resemblance to his prison serving, former Marine predecessor. In Nixon’s era, Army General Alexander Haig took over after the resignation of H.R. Haldeman, described as a man with a “gaze that would freeze Medusa” and the “bearing of a Prussian guard.” Politico:

The job then fell to Al Haig, an active-duty, four-star Army general who, by the estimation of Attorney General William Saxbe, was the real “president toward the end. He held that office together.” Kissinger would go a step further. “By sheer willpower, dedication and self-discipline,” he maintained, Haig—who served as chief of staff in 1973 and 1974—“held the government together.”

It’s easy to forget how dangerously unstable Nixon grew in the final months of his presidency. He drank heavily, slept little and struck many aides as increasingly divorced from reality. In his last days in the White House, he wandered the halls aimlessly, talking to the portraits of former presidents that hung on the walls. He beckoned Kissinger to join him for an unsettling, private moment in the Lincoln Bedroom. “Henry,” he pleaded, “you are not a very orthodox Jew, and I am not an orthodox Quaker, but we need to pray.”

Haig first raised the issue of resignation with Nixon, then prodded him toward acceptance of that outcome, and instructed Vice President Gerald Ford to prepare himself for a quick succession. Haig would later stand accused of brokering a deal by which Nixon resigned in exchange for a full presidential pardon. He and Ford denied that charge until their dying days.

Leon Jaworski, who became special prosecutor after Cox’s dismissal, regarded Haig as the “37½” president. In many regards, this was true—and that fact should send a chill through the spine of any right-thinking person. Though he undoubtedly did great service to the nation in Nixon’s final days, Al Haig was an active-duty Army officer—unelected and unaccountable.

Kelly may yet prove the one person capable of managing Trump, a man who even many conservatives regard as unhinged from reality, dangerously isolated inside the bubble of his own mind, erratic and besieged. Perhaps it will take another general to steer the country through another presidential crisis.

Alexander Haig used to attempt to rally Republicans in congress, imploring them that Nixon’s deeds were forgiveable sins, not impeachable offenses. John Kelly likely will forego that strategy for the simple reason that he doesn’t have any have contacts in congress, a point which many view unfavorably as this new transition is contemplated. What will Kelly bring to the party? Politico:

Kelly allies expect him to try to exert adult supervision over the White House.

“He strongly believes in discipline and a strong chain of command,” Leon Panetta, who also served as chief of staff and director of the White House Office of Management and Budget for President Bill Clinton, said of his former military aide in an interview. “He has little tolerance for chaos and people who don’t follow orders.”

A major task before Kelly, Panetta said, will be to establish “a process for developing policy and a chain of command.”

“Competing power centers makes that job almost impossible.”

Kelly will also have to be able to take on the president — something few administration officials are expected to do as much as the White House chief of staff.

“He will have to be willing to look the president in the eye and tell him when he is wrong,” Panetta said on Saturday. “He can’t just be a yes man.”

“Whether John can succeed depends on whether President Trump can change.”

That’s the key, isn’t it? The person who needs to be replaced is not the one going; at least, not yet. When Priebus resigned it was said that Trump was hitting the reset button. Others said that Trump was hitting rock bottom and that his appointment of General Kelly as Chief of Staff was his last ditch effort to effect a change in the toxic and chaotic White House. The introduction of Kelly, whom Trump considers the most successful and productive cabinet member, just thickened the plot considerably. Maybe history will repeat itself again and Kelly will be the man to persuade Trump that he needs to resign, both for his own survival and for the good of the country. Are we ready for the reign of 45 ½?

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