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Michael A. Cohen

John Kelly is right about the president

White House chief of staff John Kelly at the White House on Friday, April 13.AP Photo/Susan Walsh

White House chief of staff John Kelly thinks the president is an idiot.

So says a new report by NBC News that relies on multiple White House sources. Apparently Kelly views himself as "the lone bulwark against catastrophe, curbing the erratic urges of a president who has a questionable grasp on policy issues and the functions of government." In making this case to aides and other White House officials, according to the report, Kelly has called the president an idiot not one time in a fit of frustration, but rather "multiple times." Kelly has called the allegations "BS."


Kelly's ridicule of the president's intelligence is not an unusual occurrence in this administration. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly called Trump a "moron" — a charge he refused to deny.

Former national security adviser H.R. McMaster complained that Trump is "idiot'' and a "dope" who has the intelligence of a kindergartner.

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and Steve Mnuchin, the secretary of the Treasury, also are reported to have called Trump an idiot.

Even outside confidants like Fox News head Rupert Murdoch are not too impressed with the president's intellect. Murdoch called Trump an idiot after struggling to explain immigration policy to the president.

Kelly's latest indiscretion is yet another broadside to hit this White House, but the shock here is not that Kelly (and a healthy percentage of White House officials) thinks his boss is an idiot. What would be shocking is if he didn't think that to be true.

All you need to do is listen to Trump speak or watch him try to explain any of the myriad policies that a president is supposed to understand in order to do the job. Trump talking about immigration or North Korea or health care is like watching a kitten playing with a ball of yarn. We know from repeated White House leaks that the president doesn't like to read; that aides need to talk him out of harebrained ideas, or use models and dioramas to explain complicated issues to him. According to a recent report by Reuters, "Trump was shown a scale model of North Korea's sprawling nuclear bomb test site with a removable mountaintop and a miniature Statue of Liberty inside so he could grasp the size of the facility." If ever a visual aide said a thousand words.


If there's a scandal in Kelly's true feelings about the president being revealed, it is that so many of the president's closest aides are critical of his intellect. Imagine what they see from Trump, on a daily basis, that causes them all to draw the same conclusion.

It's one more example of how Trump is the "emperor has no clothes" president. It seems everyone who works for this administration has to publicly assert that he is able to carry out the functions of the presidency and that he is engaged on policy issues, when in reality he's intellectually naked as a jaybird. In the days after the Ronny Jackson debacle, administration officials like Sarah Huckabee Sanders publicly claimed that Trump's nominee to become head of the Department of Veteran Affairs had been "more vetted than most nominees," when, in reality, no one believes that and Trump's own aides leaked to reporters the fact that Jackson had not been vetted at all.


No one believes the White House's own talking points — not even the people who work in the White House. Perhaps the 30 to 40 percent of Americans who still support this president have convinced themselves that he's smart enough to be president, but frankly, that says more about them than it does Trump.

I suppose this is the ultimate example of how Trump has gaslighted the country. Most of us can see that the emperor has no clothes. White House aides mutter under their breath and unload to reporters; members of Congress complain off-the-record or talk among themselves; journalists come up with euphemisms to capture Trump's intellectual limitations. We can pretend that Trump is wearing the finest and most magnificent garments in the world. But the truth is, John Kelly and former administration officials are right about the president — and we all know it.

Michael A. Cohen's column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.