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John Kelly is not apolitical.

SAUL LOEB / Getty Images

A Wednesday piece in The Washington Post credits Kelly for being an “apolitical force” in a sharply ideological White House:

Passing up opportunities to craft policies, Kelly has acted as a neutral mediator— encouraging key players to argue their points, ensuring proposals are fully vetted and then presenting the options to the president. He has assiduously avoided being tagged as a stalking horse for [Steve] Bannon and his wing of hard-line nationalists or for senior adviser Jared Kushner and his coterie of business-friendly centrists. Rather, he has cultivated personal relationships with each of the competing spheres of the White House and pledged a fair hearing for all.

It may be true that Bannon is to the right of Kelly. But this does not mean the former general is an “apolitical force.” That claim is entirely inconsistent with his record at the Department of Homeland Security. As Jonathan Blitzer noted for The New Yorker on August 1, Kelly distinguished himself as a zealot:

In six months, Kelly eliminated guidelines that governed federal immigration agents’ work; vastly expanded the categories of immigrants being targeted for deportation; threatened to abandon the Obama-era program that grants legal status to undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children; and has even broached the idea of splitting up mothers and children at the border to “deter” people from coming to the U.S.

That is not the work of an apolitical man. That is the work of a man who has enthusiastically embraced Trump’s ideology. Furthermore, Kelly accepted not one but two positions in the Trump administration. His very decision to enter the administration is a deeply political act; doubly so, considering the mounting number of generals now serving in the White House. These generals have blurred the traditional divisions between military power and civilian government, and his choice to participate in that blurring is also political.

The Post’s hairsplitting—Kelly is no moderate, the piece says, he is simply “non-ideological”—makes no sense. Kelly made a deliberate choice first to work for Donald Trump, then to implement Trump’s agenda in an aggressive fashion. That members of the press now call him an “apolitical force” shows how low the bar is set: Show the barest hint of objection to Trump, and they’ll call you a Republican maverick. It’s the old John McCain maneuver, applied to a man responsible for breaking up families.