John Kelly and Nick Ayers Leaving by End of Year

On Saturday, Donald Trump shouted at reporters that Chief of Staff John Kelly would be leaving by the end of the year. The announcement follows months of reports that Trump and Kelly were at odds over a number of issues.

It has long been expected that Mike Pence's longtime aide Nick Ayers would take over in Kelly's position, but, yesterday, Ayers announced on Twitter that he would be leaving the White House by the end of the year, too: "Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House. I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause."

I noted on Twitter: "Just a reminder that Ayers was a strategist for Pence's re-election campaign for governor of Indiana and the national chair of his veep campaign in 2016. If Pence has reason to believe he'll be running in 2020, Ayers is more useful out in the field quietly laying that groundwork than as Trump's chief of staff."

A number of people responded by positing that Ayers was hightailing it out of the White House because Bob Mueller's investigation is getting close to him, but a couple of things about that theory:

1. Leaving his current job won't protect him from the law. (And he knows that.) Frankly, I think the fact that Ayers is flying the coop now is an indication that he believes none of this stuff will touch him. Leaving the White House won't protect him from legal trouble, but staying and maintaining proximity to that power (and a president willing to abuse it) might/would protect him. He obviously feels he isn't risking anything by leaving.

2. We've heard nothing about the Special Counsel's investigation getting anywhere close to Pence, despite the fact that Pence led the presidential transition, during which much of the collusion being scrutinized took place. (Which is one of the reasons I suspect Pence has been cooperating.) Given that, I've no reason to believe it's gotten close to Ayers, either.

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It could also, of course, merely be a case of the ambitious Ayers jumping off a sinking ship. That possibility might resonate more strongly with me if it seemed like Pence was sinking with that ship. But, much to my everlasting chagrin, it doesn't. At least not at this moment.

When Pence raised eyebrows by launching his own political action committee one day after the appointment of a special counsel, marking the first time a sitting veep has ever done so, it was Nick Ayers, along with Pence's other chief political operative, Marty Obst, who was shopping meets with the veep to raise cash for the PAC.

My read on this is that Ayers, whose background is in campaigning, will position himself to, as his tweet suggests, "work with the #MAGA team to advance the cause" — but he'll really be working for whoever is running for reelection in 2020, with the expectation it won't be Donald Trump.

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One outlying possibility: Ayers got shoved out after Pence's maneuvering became obvious to Trump.

(Or to Ivanka and Jared. Who then convinced Trump of Pence's disloyalty.)

In which case, despite Trump's having been backed into publicly asking him to be his running mate again, Pence might be next out the door.

Because if there's one thing we all know about Donald Trump, it's that his word is garbage.

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