White House Chief of Staff John Kelly stands in the Oval Office. Photo: Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Here’s the picture I’ve formed of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, based on dozens of conversations over the past weeks with senior officials in the Trump administration.

Why it matters: In his 5 months as chief of staff, Kelly has successfully brought a measure of control to the West Wing but has failed to build deep alliances among much of the senior staff. Last night’s interview on Fox News — where he publicly undercut Trump — provoked the president’s first open break with his chief. 

  • He's universally admired for his service and was bestowed a level of deference and singular power that former chief of staff Reince Priebus could’ve only dreamed of.
  • He dramatically cut down everyone’s access to President Trump. This irritated and alienated not only some key staffers but, increasingly, Trump himself. Trump loves — and thrives on — constant interaction and feedback. He’s always informally polling people, asking whoever is in his company what they think of the issue of the day, whether it be a policy decision, or more frequently, whatever topic is dominating cable TV. 
  • Kelly can be short-tempered and is ruthless about keeping aides in their policy lane. National security advisers must stick to advising Trump about national security. Economic advisers shouldn’t opine on anything beyond their specific remit. That’s created a far more streamlined and orderly process.
  • But it’s not how Trump likes to operate. This is a president who consulted his Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — a former SEAL — about what his Afghanistan war strategy should look like. This is a president who had economic advisers Gary Cohn, Steven Mnuchin, and Wilbur Ross in the room — and asked all of them for their opinion — when he was planning his Syrian missile strike. 
  • A number of administration officials believe Kelly has woeful political instincts; they say he has disdain for political tactics, contempt for members of Congress, and overestimates his own ability to — as Kelly puts it to them — “work the Hill.”
  • “He’s maintained control and support because Trump empowered him, but also because people were deferential to an American hero," a senior administration official told me.
  • "But ultimately this workplace, like any, depends on building relationships and alliances to succeed. And Kelly has not built strong personal alliances with much of the senior staff.”

Go deeper

Trump's Tucker mind-meld

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images and BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images

If you want to understand the rhetorical roots of Trump's Independence Day speech at Mount Rushmore, go back and watch Tucker Carlson's monologues for the past six weeks.

Between the lines: Trump — or rather his speechwriter Stephen Miller — framed the president's opposition to the Black Lives Matter protest movement using the same imagery Carlson has been laying out night after night on Fox.

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Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 11,366,145 — Total deaths: 532,644 — Total recoveries — 6,154,138Map.
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  3. States: Photos of America's pandemic July 4 ICU beds in Arizona hot spot near capacity — Houston mayor warns about hospitals
  4. Public health: U.S. coronavirus infections hit record highs for 3 straight days.
  5. Politics: Former Trump official Tom Bossert says face masks “are not enough”
  6. World: Mexican leaders call for tighter border control as infections rise in U.S.
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Bolton's hidden aftershocks

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The news media has largely moved on, but foreign government officials remain fixated on John Bolton's memoir, "The Room Where It Happened."

Why it matters: Bolton's detailed inside-the-Oval revelations have raised the blood pressure of allies who were already stressed about President Trump's unreliability.