It is a matter of fact, not opinion, that John Kelly erred in one particular criticism of Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla. The White House chief of staff should apologize.
When the culture war over how President Trump offers condolences to Gold Star families started, Kelly waded into the firefight. As a retired Marine general and the father of a son killed in Afghanistan, his words commanded immediate respect. But Kelly was mistaken when he maligned Wilson for grandstanding at the dedication of an FBI building. Outlandish as she is, she didn’t do that.
Asked by Laura Ingraham whether he would correct the record, Kelly refused Monday night. “Oh, no," he said. "No. Never. Well, I'll apologize if I need to. But for something like that, absolutely not. I stand by my comments."
That is a mistake, both morally and politically.
Saying sorry wouldn’t be a sign of weakness. It would do the opposite, allowing Kelly all at once to correct the record and bolster his original criticism. The underlining sentiment, that Wilson is a brazen showboat who used tragedy as currency, would still stand and Kelly would showcase a rare honesty in politics.
Instead, the general decided to double down, turning what might’ve been an unwitting mistake into a full-blown lie. Kelly owns his false criticism of the congresswoman now. Once considered the proverbial adult in the room, the chief of staff is in danger of squandering that moral authority.
More than anything though, what Kelly just demonstrated to his staff and to the nation is that truth matters only in relation to the parties involved. Honesty has been downgraded from a standard to an option, a liability to be avoided so long as it furthers the goals of the White House. Maybe that’s how Washington works but it wasn’t supposed to be how Kelly operated.