- The Washington Times - Monday, January 2, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Loyalty and continuity have marked the Bush White House. After two wars, devastating strikes by terrorists and hurricanes, a bruising re-election and countless legislative battles, President Bush’s team is continuing the trend — defying history and shake-up rumors to remain almost entirely intact five years in.

Only a handful of the president’s most senior aides have departed since Mr. Bush came to Washington in 2001. Though some have shifted roles, it’s a familiar cast of characters at the president’s side: Vice President Dick Cheney, Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., political guru Karl Rove, Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin, counselor Dan Bartlett, budget chief Joshua B. Bolten, White House Counsel Harriet Miers and press secretary Scott McClellan.

Most of those who left the White House remain within easy reach. Mr. Bush’s first national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, is secretary of state. Longtime communications adviser Karen Hughes is in charge of reversing anti-American sentiment abroad from a high-level State Department job. Former White House domestic-policy chief Margaret Spellings heads the Education Department. Former White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales is attorney general. One-time White House political director Ken Mehlman chairs the Republican National Committee.

The few who have left the fold entirely were never household names to begin with, including Larry Lindsey, ousted in 2002 as part of an economic team shake-up; two chief Capitol Hill liaisons, and Indiana Gov. Mitchell E. Daniels Jr., who was Mr. Bush’s first budget chief.

Mr. Bush’s Cabinet has seen more turnover than his top-level White House staff. Still, a third of the 21 Cabinet-rank positions are held by the same person as when Mr. Bush came to Washington.

“I don’t think there’s any other president in the modern era that has seen this kind of stability,” said David Gergen, who served in the administrations of Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

It does have advantages. The president has a group of highly experienced aides who have earned his trust and work well together because of their familiarity — a hardy few even are holdovers from Mr. Bush’s days as Texas governor. The Bush crowd also benefits from its trademark loyalty and from a shortage of the backstabbing that bedeviled the Clinton White House and many others before it.

The lack of change has contributed to criticism of Mr. Bush as governing from inside a bubble that isolates him from smart dissent, healthy competition, fresh ideas and bad news.

“If people stay that long, groupthink can set in, and that’s dangerous for a president,” Mr. Gergen said.

Mr. Bartlett disputed the notion that Mr. Bush is out of touch. “The people around the president are humble enough to not think that we know everything,” he said. “We do reach out to people outside.”

There will no doubt be a few departures, as people give in to fatigue or the temptation of the high-paying private sector. A small group may head out closer to spring, before campaigning for the November congressional elections begins in earnest. But most expect any larger exodus to wait until after those elections.

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