CNN —  

At first glance, President Donald Trump and his chief of staff, John Kelly, could not be more different. Kelly is a decorated military man who appears to prefer the background to the limelight. Trump is a son of privilege who received five deferments to avoid Vietnam and has spent his entire adult life finding a way to get in front of the camera.

Looks, of course, can be deceiving. And, the more Kelly speaks, the more he sounds like Trump.

Witness Kelly’s interview on Monday night with Laura Ingraham for her new Fox News Channel show “The Ingraham Angle.”

Kelly said that the Civil War was born of a “lack of an ability to compromise” and praised Confederate general Robert E. Lee as “an honorable man.” For context, here’s the fuller quote:

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which in 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War. And men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had to make their stand.”

While a lack of compromise certainly played a role in the Civil War, the major issue was that of slavery – which Kelly fails to mention in his defense of either Lee or his broader justifications for the war.

Kelly’s views on the Civil War reflect equally odd comments made by Trump earlier this year.

In an interview with Washington Examiner reporter Salena Zito in May, Trump asked: “Why was there the Civil War? Why could that one not have been worked out?”


Misremembering the roots of the Civil War wasn’t the only controversial thing Kelly said in his interview with Ingraham on Monday night. Asked about his false claim that Florida Democratic Rep. Frederica Wilson gave a grandstanding speech at the dedication of an FBI building in Miami, Kelly responded: “Well, I’ll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments.”

(“I stand by what I said,” Wilson tweeted Tuesday morning. “John Kelly owes the nation an apology because when he lied about me, he lied to the American public.”)

That willingness to double down on being wrong is also one of the defining characteristics of Trump. Unlike most politicians who will apologize when proven wrong – or, at the least, not keep repeating the same falsehoods – Trump seems to revel in doing just that. From his repeated misstatement that the US is the highest taxed nation in the world to his claims about his inauguration crowd size – and a hundred other false claims in between – Trump’s damn-the-facts approach to his public statements are central to the President’s image.

It’s also worth remembering that Kelly has exhibited another one of Trump’s core traits: Name-calling. In a press conference aimed at quieting the furor caused by Trump’s controversial condolence call to Myeshia Johnson, the widow of La David Johnson, a soldier killed in Niger, Kelly made waves by repeatedly referring to Wilson – the Congresswoman was in the car with Ms. Johnson – as an “empty barrel.” That led to an extended debate as to whether the term was racist.

Trump has turned name-calling into a high political art. Crooked Hillary. Lyin’ Ted. Liddle Bob Coker. Low energy Jeb Bush. And, of course, his newest put-down: “Low-level volunteer” George Papadopoulos.

07:19 - Source: CNN
Kelly attacks Dem Rep as 'empty barrel'

We’ve known from the start of his administration that Kelly is Trump’s favorite Cabinet member – first as director of the Department of Homeland Security and now as chief of staff. The assumption was that Trump’s admiration for Kelly was driven by the latter’s military accomplishments. (Trump regularly refers to the military men who work for him as “my generals.”)

But, increasingly, it seems as though Trump is drawn to Kelly for another reason: Because they see the world similarly. Trump likes people who affirm his views and who are willing to battle political correctness and the media at every turn. Kelly appears to be ready and willing to take up arms in those fights.